periphery occupies a fascinating place in the metal landscape in 2023. Forming in the mid-2000s and coming to prominence at the beginning of the following decade, the band’s music and legacy contains several dualities.
Misha Mansoor and his celebrated colleagues have a reputation for technical skill and mind-bending complexity, and yet the band still has a strong pop-sensibility focused on hooks and memorability. The band certainly take their music seriously, and yet project winks and nods through ironic and satirical song and album titles (I imagine this album’s title is an homage to Kurt Cobain‘s shirt that said “grunge is dead”). I mean, look no further than the title of this album. And therein lies another duality. They deny the existence of “djent” as a discernible style of metal, and yet it was the hype around this scene in the early-2010s that helped make their name and success.
And when it comes to that era of metal, periphery has always been the vibrant shining star in the constellation of tedious djent acts and predictable “Sumerian-core” bands that once made the rounds at the Summer Slaughter tour. To be sure, these bands all had their virtues, but there’s a reason periphery has endured. Part of it is their integrity to stubbornly go their own way, including their well-publicized refusal to simply play easy crowd favorites again and again on tour. And on a basic level, they were never just another band who took Mushuggah’s guitar tone and made really boring music with it.
For this reviewer, peripherals II will always be the God-tier periphery album, the others simply adding a few bangers to a playlist centered on that release. That said, 2019’s Periphery IV: Hail Stan was really…really good. As I’ve indicated about other well-established bands, periphery‘s central mission at this point in their career is to be the best version of themselves. On that basis, we can call peripherals v an imperfect success.
The album kicks off with “Wildfire” and “Atropos,” two hefty slabs of metal that contain all the familiar hallmarks of periphery‘s sound. The songs are infectious enough to keep your attention but might have been better placed in the middle of the album, each feeling a little long and complicated for the beginning. The album seems to really get going with “Wax Wings,” an absolutely undeniable sing-song anthem in the spirit of “Scarlet,” “Marigold,” “Alpha” and “Feed the Ground.” Seriously, that chorus is top-40-level catchy. In just world, Z100 would play this jam non-stop.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the other obvious highlight is “Zagreus.” This is the song where the band lets their heavy side really crush the listener. I’m also partial to the lyrics, targeted against self-righteousness, close-mindedness and lazy deferrals to authority:
I think it’s time to stop pointing fingers and start looking inward
Measure the cases ’cause it’s not right just to generalize
Start staring down your life and maybe you’ll see things much clearer
Imploring what’s down in your mind to make an appearance
Sort your condition
Throw it into remission
Throw it away
Another super-heavy track is the ferocious “Everything Is Fine!” Whenever I see the band live again, I want to hear them play this. I’d love to see what the pit is like when the song hits the 4:06 mark.
The other songs tend to flow best as part of the entire album, especially the ambitious pair of tracks at the end. “Dracul Gras” and “Thanks Nobuo” will definitely satisfy fans looking for a sprawling, theatrical take on periphery‘s sound. The songs blend the band’s standbys with elements of ambient and post-rock that certainly bring interesting colors to the compositions.
If you really want to hear them veer off, check out “Silhouette,” the zero-metal total synth-pop jam at the middle of the album. I’d normally scoff at this sort of thing, but something about Spencer Sotelo’s voice just makes it work. The guy missed his calling making soundtracks for Disney movies.
I don’t need to tell you about the immense talents held by every member of the band. periphery came out of the gate in 2010 with incredible skill and precision, and none of that has changed here. It’s a good periphery album, though still not my favorite. But make no mistake: “Wax Wings,” “Everything Is Fine!” and “Zagreus” are going on the playlist.