Periphery - Periphery III: Select Difficulty - (7/10)
Published on July 19, 2016
Djent popularizers Periphery have achieved quite a lot over the short span of their (approximately) six-year career. Not only have they managed to be far more prolific than their legion of followers but, while they ultimately might not have hit upon some of the same heights as their competitors, they’ve also been notably more consistent those acts who might have them inherently outgunned. Following on from last year’s passion project/conceptual double-album, Juggernaut—not to mention the severely underrated Clear EP the year before that—Periphery III: Select Difficulty sees a return to the more straight-forward, song-oriented focus of their earlier material.
Select Difficulty begins by suggesting that it’s going to be Periphery’s heaviest release since Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal (2012). Sure, Juggernaut had its moments, and “Feed The Ground” (from Clear) certainly wasn’t anything to thumb your nose at, but the first three songs on this record would make a strong claim to being the heaviest material Periphery have penned to date. “The Price Is Wrong” absolutely tears out of the gate, bringing to mind and amped up rendition of, classic heavy-hitter, “The Walk” from the band’s debut, with “Motormouth” and “Marigold” following suit, and even the more-subdued “The Way The News Goes…” has frontman Spencer Sotelo’s trademark melodic croon being backed by a blast-beat. These first few tracks seem to suggest that Periphery have finally found the perfect balance between the complex and aggressive musicianship that brought them to the attention of underground metal fans in the first place, and the more accessible hooks and structures that subsequently broke them to a wider audience.
Nevertheless, as each of the band’s previous releases has also seen a noticeable shift toward softer, more-considered material—often to great effect—so too does Select Difficulty continue the plunge toward an overall softer tone. From about the half-way mark—properly begging with “Remain Indoors”, but also being previously signaled by “The Way The News Goes…”—Periphery seemingly put their heaviest moments behind them, and make a decisive turn toward softer and more-accessible material. I’ve set myself apart from the metal-critic crowd somewhat in embracing Sotelo not only as a “good” vocalist, but as an outstanding one who constitutes one of the best working in the music business today. However, whereas softer/poppier moments such as “Heavy Heart” and “The Parade Of Ashes” have provided for the finer moments of their respective releases, these comparably-restrained counterparts come off as lesser moments on this most-recent effort.
Aside from a few certifiable missteps, the material on Select Difficulty’s second half is hardly offensive, but it isn’t all that remarkable either. The floaty “Remain Indoors” serves its purpose well enough, but it isn’t a great song, and it’s positioned too close in proximity to “The Way The News Goes…” to benefit from the novelty such a track would usually attract when used as a shift in pace. From there, the listener is take through a succession of tracks that seem to become more and more based around Sotelo’s cleaner vocals and less reliant on the kind of aggression and exciting instrumentation that made its earlier tracks truly “pop”. It’s not that the majority of these tracks are bad, and there are certainly some interesting moments to get caught on along the way. However, what it all adds up to is ultimately forgettable. What really do stand out in Select Difficulty’s later half are the truly sub-par moments, such as the symphonic elements on “Absolomb”, which never seem to properly gel with what’s around them, and the pompously “uplifting” “Catch Fire”, which is simply bad.
Periphery III: Select Difficulty is Periphery’s most conventional release since their debut, albeit it’s one that continues to experiment and take risks with an already proven formula—even if they don’t always pay off. The majority of what’s contained within Select Difficulty is undoubtedly good. However, Periphery have made a career for themselves out of suggesting that they’re capable of being something more than merely a “good” band, and it’s about time they made good on that promise, or at least played more to their conventional strengths, in order to achieve a more consistent outing than this “third” outing (and dare I say the double-disc album before it) delivers.
Time was when, like it or not, Periphery were rightly described as one of the most exciting, cutting-edge bands in modern metal. Select Difficulty proves it’s a crowd pleaser with flying colors, but it also suggests that maybe Periphery’s most promising and exciting days are behind them.