Periphery – Periphery III: Select Difficulty

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Periphery are a band that’s always moving forwards. They were once just another bedroom guitarist’s project, and over the years they’ve flourished into one of the biggest names in metal today. And with each new release, they’ve found subtle ways of growing their sound and improving their songwriting in order to keep things from getting stale. But this time around, the band was faced with something of a tall order: how do you follow up a massive concept album that sprawls two discs and runs the gamut from radio-ready rock to some of the lowest, heaviest downtuning possible with metal guitars?

Well, the answer is simple: you don’t. Instead of feeling daunted by trying to follow up such a heady record, this time around Periphery has opted to just have fun with the process. Writing and recording in guitarist Misha Mansoor’s home/studio, the band deliberately put itself in a much more relaxed environment in order to not force things, and it truly shows: Periphery III: Select Difficulty features some of the band’s most straightforward, thoughtfully arranged, and vocally-driven songs ever. While there’s some typical heavy Periphery fare to open up the album with the back to back combo of “The Price is Wrong” and “Motormouth” (two tracks which, in all honesty, tread a little too close to many of their other songs), there’s a surprising amount of variety here for a metal band. “Marigold” is what happens when you build a rock song out of proggy guitar riffs and pure pop instinct, with string embellishments and gang-vocal chants to match, and “The Way the News Goes…” is comprised of a soaring, intricate clean guitar melody that refuses to stay in any one plac and later manages to meld a blast beat to a pop chorus in the same song. Following that theme, “Catch Fire” is the band’s purest attempt at a pop track yet, possibly more so than Juggernaut’s “Heavy Heart”. Surprisingly enough, it delivers in spades, showcasing that the trademark Periphery sound can stay intact while also being able to slot in easily on the radio, and proving that this band is impossibly dynamic within an incredibly narrow genre. And while it’s the closing track, “Lune” feels more like the centerpiece of the record. Periphery has always flirted with ambience and layering to thicken up their sound, but “Lune” is the most purely mood-driven track they’ve ever recorded. Opening with an introspective guitar line and taking its time to bring in several layers of synth, strings, and effects-drenched guitars, the song is a showcase for Spencer Sotelo’s vocal prowess. It’s quite possibly the closest thing to a ballad a band like them can get, and its worth its weight in emotional heft (which is even more impressive considering that, by most standards, its lyrics are pretty plain).

But on the parts of the records where they’re not stretching their muscles, at times it feels like they’re starting to run the risk of repeating themselves. As mentioned before, the two opening tracks feel like very by-the-numbers Periphery heavy tracks, handing in riffs that feel like they could have been written by anyone on the Sumerian Records roster. They’re nothing as impressively heavy as “Zyglrox” or “Make Total Destroy”, and they also fail to bring a new twist to that sound, either, which makes them feel a little flat. Also suspect is the fact that the band is continuing to revisit nearly decade-old Misha demos for new material: for a band that prides itself on having every member be a songwriter, enough so to base an entire EP around the concept of each member writing a song based around a singular overture, it seems a little odd to dredge up and rework such old material instead. Aside from those issues, it’s hard not to feel like a few songs here run just a little too long as well. “Marigold” features a two minute long outro consisting of nothing but guitar feedback and reverb, and when that happens just three songs into the record, it’s a total flow-killer. “Absolomb” suffers from a similar fate, but for a different reason: its outro is actually a gorgeous piece of orchestral composition, and should be showcased as its own separate track. However, it simply feels tacked on at the end to inflate the track’s length instead.

But considering that the band didn’t set out to reinvent the wheel for themselves with this record, that’s okay. There’s still a lot of growth to be found even on this more laid back, less ambitious undertaking. There’s heavy amounts of orchestral strings on this record, plenty of analog synths being seamlessly melded into guitar lines for added texture and flavor, a sharper eye for actual melodic songwriting instead of smashing riffs together, and more attention to detail than ever before. The band is still having enormous amounts of fun just writing and playing together, and even when they feel like they’re treading water, that fun is infectious. Overall, Periphery III: Select Difficulty is another welcome addition to the band’s catalog, and offers up yet another new flavor of their sound.

KEY TRACKS: Marigold, The Way the News Goes…, Flatline, Lune

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Cyclamen – Creatuneau [2016]

Cyclamen - Creatuneau - cover

The music industry is in a weird, weird place right now. In the face of streaming, piracy, and the sheer amount of music one has to compete with for attention, it’s getting harder and harder to make a living for all but the most successful and strongly backed of artists. Or is it?

That’s where Japanese metal band Cyclamen comes in. Instead of bowing to industry trends or selling themselves out, they’ve remained intensely DIY and focused on giving their fans the best experience possible. And in order to do that, they’ve recently offered a subscription package with a wealth of goodies: everything from an exclusive album’s worth of music (plus a sneak peek into its writing and recording process and a physical copy of it), a custom t-shirt, a behind-the-scenes blog, and even personalized artwork from the band’s leader, Hayato Imanishi.

But you can give your fans all the goodies in the world and it won’t mean a thing unless you have the music to back it up. No worries there – Cyclamen is and has been one of the most exciting metal bands of recent years. With a sound that blends the textures of post-rock and ambient right alongside some of the heaviest elements of djent and progressive metal, they’re a band with no shortage of great ideas. And they’ve proven that once again on this newest, exclusive album, “Creatuneau”.

Things start off heavy with the opening seconds of “Apalition”. Immediately hitting the listener with a gut punch of a riff, it then switches things up with a verse that’s much more dreamy and atmospheric, buoyed by textured guitars and airy vocals. It makes evident from the start one of this band’s key strengths: their ability to make seemingly disparate elements comfortably exist within the same song, and sound all the better for being played against each other. The next track, “Naryinn”, demonstrates that same strength but a little bit differently. Trading texture for aggression, this song jumps back and forth between percussive rapped vocals, harsh screams, abrasive riffs, and finally a cathartic ending with ease. For many bands, this would end up just sounding like a mess of random ideas, but for Cyclamen, it allows for contrast and dynamics while still remaining a cohesive and interesting song. The next track, “Watarie Lawker” is an instrumental that showcases the technical ability that anchors detours such as those in “Naryinn”. Reminiscent of Periphery and Animals as Leaders, the band blends breakneck tapping leads, angular drop-tuned riffs, and rhythmic clean sections in order to create a song that stands just as strongly as any of their vocally-driven tracks.

Cyclamen isn’t just a heavy band, either – they know when to get pretty, too. “Feurlise” proves this in spades, being centered around a gentle, hopeful, yet technically complex clean tapping lead and backed up by an ever-ascending E-bow track. It builds mood and atmosphere for the first couple of minutes, giving the listener a bit of a breather after the explosiveness of the past few tracks. But it’s not without its bite, either. In its final moments, “Feurlise” explodes into one of the heaviest moments on the album, sporting a pounding blast beat and some powerful screams to match. It’s catharsis at its finest, expertly building and releasing tension in a way only the best progressive metal can do.

“Morgan” uses some of that tension building spirit too, but in a different way. Starting off with sampled voices and tense chords that purposefully jut up against each other, the song ebbs and flows between a mysterious sounding verse riff, whispered vocal samples to add atmosphere, and finally a triumphant guitar lead that closes out all of the song’s drama. And like the rapped section on “Naryinn”, “Pharse” also displays a bit of nu-metal influence with its pairing of DJ scratches and a simple, yet pummeling main riff. It’s a strong, energetic closer to an album full of strong, energetic songs.

And perhaps the most surprising thing is how all these is packed into just 25 minutes. Cyclamen both builds up rich textures and tears them down with crushing, complex riffs, shreds vocal chords with the harshest of screams and lulls you with the most pleasant of cleans, and wears a myriad of influences on their sleeves all in just 8 songs. It’s an exciting, powerful, and concise record, and the sheer quality here also excellently justifies the exclusive subscription model. Perhaps the most incredible part of all is that this record was written and recorded in the span of about five weeks, despite the fact that the number of people that would ever hear it was inherently limited, and yet it still stands as some of the best material the band has ever released. It proves a certain loyalty to the craft and a certain devotion to the fans, and when those things are made that obvious, it’s easy to see why the band has earned so much support in kind.

And as always, you can check out Cyclamen’s music over at https://cyclamen.bandcamp.com/ , or you can directly stream “Naryinn” until 3/21 here!

Periphery – Juggernaut: Alpha & Omega

Periphery-Juggernaut

It’s hard to imagine now that Periphery was once the humble bedroom project of Misha Mansoor. In the past five years they’ve cobbled together a stable line up, signed to Sumerian Records, toured the world, and have put themselves at the forefront of modern metal. And now they’ve taken yet another leap, in the form of the two-disc concept album Juggernaut.

That’s no easy feat – especially for a band who have never truly, fully collaborated from start to finish on any album prior. It would’ve been simple, even expected, for them to stumble and make a mockery of themselves. Instead, they stuck to their strengths and used them to create a fully realized and cohesive work, proving that there’s a place for Periphery the band, and not just Periphery the bedroom project.

Juggernaut is the full package when it comes to concept albums. Woven throughout are repeating motifs and choruses, and a once-over of the lyrics provides a general idea of the story and events of its plot (which I’ll leave for you to figure out for yourself, because it’s so much more fun that way). It’s a dark story and a dark album in general, descending from the generally more mild-mannered disc Alpha into the almost purely metal disc Omega, and rarely does it take a breather (aside from the exceptional acoustic-based Priestess and a handful of interludes). But for all its darkness, Juggernaut still retains plenty of Periphery’s ear for melody, smoothly inserting soaring choruses as well as well-timed instrumentals and interludes to break up the mood. In fact, this is one of the qualities that has set them apart from the “djent” scene and their progressive metal peers in general – their willingness to incorporate melody and poppy songwriting into otherwise heavy music is what gives their music a distinctive quality, and ensures that each song is different than the last (instead of just creating an album full of 8 string Meshuggah rip offs like so many bands in the djent scene).

The concept also has another effect on the band: this is far and away the band’s most cohesive, consistent album to date. While their earlier work had a tendency to jump around from style to style, and was sometimes guilty of stitching together disparate musical elements into the same songs, Juggernaut has finally put those pieces together in a way that makes sense. Not much here has changed for them stylistically, though. If you’re familiar with Periphery, you can pretty much expect the same sort of progressive metal sound they’ve built their reputation on so far. But this time around, it’s so much clearer that this album was a fully collaborative work between the entire band, rather than each individual member bringing in their own mostly-finished ideas. And because each member was involved from Day 1, it wasn’t necessary to try and shoehorn their ideas into existing pieces of music, instead letting them find a balance between each personality and style in the band. For being a double album, its runtime passes by incredibly quickly, due to the record’s flow, cohesion, and variety of sounds and hooks.

There’s few flaws to be found on Juggernaut. Spencer does gives into oversinging occasionally, rarely restraining his voice like he does on A Black Minute and Reprise, and the album could have used a few more songs to help flesh out the story a little more (while it’s easy to get a general grasp on the concept, some parts of it are still very vague and require more assumption and speculation than anything else). But these are just minor nits to pick on an album that’s otherwise the strongest release of the band’s career, an album that prides itself on being a complete work in an age where the album format is being increasingly marginalized. Juggernaut sets Periphery up as a band who has entered the prime of their creative powers, and underlines each and every one of their strengths in striking relief.

The name ‘Periphery’ is now nothing but a complete misdirection – because they are truly front and center at the head of the pack.

KEY TRACKS (ALPHA): Heavy Heart, Alpha, 22 Faces, Rainbow Gravity

KEY TRACKS (OMEGA): The Bad Thing, Priestess, Omega, Stranger Things