Periphery - Juggernaut - (8/10)
Published on January 25, 2015
The beginning of the end?
Distinguished djentlemen Periphery are the latest band to try their hand at the ever-increasing trend of “companion albums,” with the twin-release of Juggernaut: Alpaha and Omega, joining the appropriately progressive likes of Devin Townsend (Z2, 2014), Baroness (Green & Yellow, 2012) and Coheed And Cambria (The Afterman, 2012-13), with Soilwork seeming to be the only act prepared to throw their name behind a full-blown, traditional-style, double album (The Living Infinite, 2013) – a record that ended up spawning its own companion piece in last year’s Beyond The Infinite, leftovers EP.
Juggernaut seems to be a more coherent work than the clearly distinguished records of Baroness and Townsend, being closer in kin to The Afterman in that they represent two separate segments of a complete whole, but with the added bonus of being released as a single package. The album follows an as yet undisclosed concept – due to be revealed in the release’s liner notes and accompanying, twelve-page, graphic booklet, illustrated by Justin Randall (Black City, 30 Days Of Night) (each) – “a tale of birth and re-birth,” which seems to be preoccupied with inner struggles and has been in development since before Periphery’s debut album (of which that record’s persistent “Icarus Lives!” and “Jetpacks Was Yes!” were intended to be a part). Although, the narrative aspect is a rather secondary, um… concept, with Periphery seeming more intent on crafting individually successful (albeit interconnected) compositions than a sprawling epic.
Not wanting to be seen as the softer disc, Alpha comes out swinging with “MK Ultra,” although, given the overly mellow proceedings to follow, it comes off as perhaps a more calculated (if successful) move than a truly organic one. Alpha does contain its share of heavier moments – not least the crushing “The Scourge;” and “22 Faces,” which showcases founding guitarist Misha “Bulb” Mansoor at his most lethal – but it’s a disc largely characterized by the band’s more accessible side, with even “The Scourge” ending in a smooth, piano-backed lull, and elsewhere their latent aggression being channeled into more upbeat compositions, such as with the tellingly-titled “Rainbow Gravity” and subtitle-track “Alpha.”
Each successive Periphery release has seen the focus shift further away from Mansoor’s guitar playing and on to Sotelo’s vocals, and Juggernaut is no exception – a move clearly signaled in the opening croons of Alpha’s “A Black Minute,” and its counterpart in Omega’s “Reprise.” The records’ most successful moments are those built around gripping vocal phrases, which Sotelo pulls of with conviction and ease. Of particular and immediate note is the pop-tastic “Heavy Heart,” a clear, early highlight of the Juggernaut suite that sees Sotelo in full flight, however, the effect is somewhat spoiled by the track’s lack of a real ending – shifting abruptly into the ill-matched, transitory “The Event,” without really building to a proper conclusion.
Ironically, it’s the second of Juggernaut’s discs, Omega, is where Periphery bring their A-game. Bursting forth with the compounding “The Bad Thing” – a harder-edged track which immediately eclipses everything on Alpha – Juggernaut’s second disc is characterized by groovy Meshuggah-isms (with “Hell Below” bearing particular resemblance to that band’s “Behind The Sun,” AKA: the heaviest song ever; and revered, deep-end Meshuggah imitators, Vildhjarta) and jaw-dropping tech riffery, culminating in the albums’ crown piece, the twelve minute prog odyssey, “Omega” – equal parts crushing tech-metal and soaring melodies – which, more than track here or in Periphery’s extended catalog show’s just what this band are all about and are capable of achieving. Omega is a much more focused and word piece than Alpha, and its shorter length (clocking it at the sub-40-minute mark) begs the question of just what Juggernaut could have been had Periphery integrated some of Alpha’s stronger tracks into Omega to form a single, unified whole.
…Although that would be defeating the whole point now wouldn’t it?
Juggernaut is quite the double-edged sword, though not in the way Periphery intended. At once, it is both one of the better, and if not the best, examples of the double/companion album format applied to the metal genre – showing a deft understanding of the cohesion and conceptual relativity required to make such a feat successful. Yet, Alpha and Omega’s successes are far greater from moment to moment than they are as a whole, with each of the discs and their individual content being too distinct to really come together properly as a whole, and the band’s second release, This Time It’s Personal (2012), having shown a greater conceptual understanding and implementation than that demonstrated by Juggernaut.
Periphery’s previous releases showed them excelling each in distinct yet related areas – 2010’s self-titled debut was a collection of individually enjoyable songs; This Time It’s Personal, showed they were unmatched in doing the heavy/progressive thing; and last year’s Clear EP/mini-album had them channeling their experimentation into more immediate compositions – by trying to collect every aspect of their sound at once under the one banner, Periphery fall short of really excelling in any particular area, and there’s the unshakable suggestion that, individually successful and coherent though they are, Aplha and Omega perhaps could have been combined into something altogether more potent.
Juggernaut remains yet another Periphery release unmatched in either scope or execution by their competitors, further cementing the band as the crowning example of the Djent movement; it just may not quite be the best example of what Periphery have shown they themselves are capable of achieving.
If you insist on individual ratings: Alpha – 7.5/10, Omega – 8.5/10.