Maryland based prog-metal and djent pioneers Periphery are back with their long awaited double concept album: “Juggernaut Alpha/Juggernaut Omega”, made available to stream on Youtube for all to listen.
Despite Periphery’s various lineup changes throughout the years the band has been stable since around 2011 with the last addition of Adam “Nolly” Getgood, then guitarist for British progressive metal band Red Seas Fire, on bass guitar. Nolly has proved to be a very important addition to Periphery, having not only co-produced the previous LP with Misha but helped widened the band’s horizons and contributed to Periphery’s growth. Furthermore, Nolly has been crucial to the improved importance and solidity he’s insisted in giving to the bass work in Periphery’s more recent releases.
The new followup to Periphery’s previous album “Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal” has been a buzz topic in the prog scene since the very early stages of Periphery. Back then, guitarist Misha Mansoor – under the pseudonym Bulb – was writing and releasing demos on various internet platforms and forums, some of which were used in Juggernaut.
But contrary to previous releases by Periphery – excluding 2014 EP Clear – Juggernaut contains a more visible group effort, by not being entirely or mostly based on Misha’s work. Be warned: this is quite audible so you might want to prepare yourself if you’re a diehard Bulb fan. Juggernaut, through its much more melodic production, highlights and celebrates frontman Spencer Sotelo’s remarkable vocal capabilities, be it through his formidable cleans or through his ghastly growls. Never has the line “Spencer Sotelo, whose voice goes up like an angel and down like a wounded ox”, from good ol’ Ragtime Dandies, been as relevant and appropriate as with this new release.
Concept wise drummer Matt Halpern has explained:
“[…] Juggernaut: Alpha, the first part of the story, focuses on the back story and character development, while part two/album two, Juggernaut: Omega, focuses on some pretty serious and gut-wrenching events, taking you for a thrill ride along the main character’s complex journey. Although the albums are split in two physically, the story is only complete when the albums are digested consecutively, allowing the listener to recognize and hear the lyrical and musical overlapping themes, foreshadowing, and connected ideas.”
On that note, Juggernaut Alpha, starts off with the initially slow paced A Black Minute, with twinkling guitar notes and guitars howling in the background, which set up the cinematographic vibe present throughout the entirety of the double album. The song builds up until it explodes in the third, final part of the song – reminiscent in a way to Periphery’s previous intro song Muramasa – and ends with a haunting, nostalgic music box melody.
Next track is heavy…. and I mean heavy. If you thought that Periphery were going to set aside their signature sound, you’ll be happy to know MK Ultra is here to save the day and make sure every djent kid wets their pants… in under 3 minutes. Imagine Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) slaughtering people and blood splattering everywhere. Then imagine him getting into an elevator and straightening his bloodstained tie while cracking his neck and looking straight forward into nothing… that’s MK Ultra, which ends with nothing else but a latin-like jingle tune worthy of any elevator’s playlist.
The album continues with Heavy Heart, a traditional track, featuring some beautiful solos, which will please most Periphery listeners.
Next up is The Event which, in my opinion, might be the most peculiar and distinctive track of the album because it doesn’t sound like something you’d expect from Periphery. This track is gloomy, sludge ridden, dark and… totally instrumental! Despite its short 109 seconds, The Event, with it’s somewhat post-metal influences, is groundbreaking in its simplicity and demonstrates Periphery’s versatility and growth throughout the years. It sounds like they’re shattering the djent shackles and I love it.
The next single, The Scourge, picks up and continues the very dark tone introduced by The Event. It gets under your skin with its slow, heavy pace as Spencer sings about a “black all around [that] makes its way inside”. It slows down even more into a quieter section where you can hear Sotelo whispering in a sort of muttering chant which then builds up into an explosive breakdown of epic proportions.
Alpha starts off with a gimicky, 8-bit tune but the guys don’t wait too long and immediately get back to business. Despite the proggy sections this song follows a somewhat basic structure in its first half and features a catchy chorus with polished clean vocals. The second half is much heavier with Spencer Sotelo switching between cleans and growls and finally ending with the 8-bit tune it started with.
22 Faces, also previously introduced to us as a single, continues dark and heavy and will also please those who are looking for djent and a nearly rebellious feel.
The eighth track, Rainbow Gravity, despite its djenty first half, feels a bit distant compared to its heavy cousins and falls flat, although it does feature a beautiful, nearly bluesy, melodic solo which somewhat saves the track and carries it out until the end section.
Four Lights is groovy. It’s a thoroughly instrumental track, reminiscent of Meshuggah and Nolly’s track Extraneous from Periphery’s previous EP Clear, and is there to beat you into a pulp. The only problem I have with this song is that it is also incredibly short with only 2 minutes 17 seconds.
One thing which is noticeable in Juggernaut is the lack of electronic interludes, usually provided by guitarist Jake Bowen, who has announced he’ll be releasing an electronic album soon. If you missed these little sections, unfortunately they’re kept to a minimum in this album, but you can hear a VERY evident This Binary Universe signature sound at the very first seconds of Psychosphere. I like to think this is a way of paying tribute to French Electronic artist BT and his revolutionary album, which has been mentioned many times as an influence by Misha, Jake and Mark Holcomb. Psychosphere wraps up the first part of Juggernaut and is the longest track of Alpha with 6 minutes 20 seconds. It lacks some of the colossal feel previous closure track Masamune and especially Racecar offered, but still delivers.
Despite the mostly positive review this album is definitely one that’ll grow on you with each listen especially to older, “die hard” fans and those who got on the djent bandwagon. It might not cause much of an impression to those listening only to the singles, but as you listen to the album in its entirety it all falls into its right place and delivers as another great, true, Periphery album. I have a mild sensation some fans will stop following Periphery due to the slight change of direction in this album, but it only serves to show how passionate the members, who are willing to lose some fans on the way, are about what they do.
Juggernaut: Alpha counts 10 tracks and is due to be officially released, together with its twin brother “Omega”, on the 27th of January through Sumerian Records.