Sophomore slump has plagued countless bands, regardless of the genre. It’s always difficult to follow up an album that could have taken any number of years (in Periphery’s case, five). Luckily for the Bethesda-native djentlemen, they’ve always been ahead of their peers in both technicality and songwriting ability. While the releases of “Make Total Destroy” and “Scarlet” had me worried that the group were descending into Protest the Hero-meets-Haunted Shores territory, Periphery II offers up almost seventy minutes of varied progressive metal with a more than healthy dose of, dare I say, pop. All of the elements from their first album are still present, which should both please their established fan base and keep their naysayers foaming at the mouth. That being said, Periphery II is a much more mature album and shows the band willing to both experiment with new ideas as well as refine the old.
Vocalist Spencer Sotelo will obviously be the most divisive member of the band, as his vocals often draw criticisms that they’re too sweet and poppy for a progressive metal band. While this is strictly an opinionated matter, his technical abilities have undeniably improved on this LP, and without the added post-production and processing that the first album used. His singing has become that much catchier, especially in the choruses of songs like “Facepalm Mute” and “Mile Zero.” But at the same time, his screams and gutterals have a healthy addition of balls, where Sotelo sounds downright furious in “Ragnarok” and the end of “Masamune”. While many metal fans preferences of vocals might not be exactly what Sotelo is offering, you really can’t deny his technical ability at this point in his career. The ending high note in “Ragnarok” should shut up just about any detractor out there.
The rest of Periphery follows suit by offering up some of the catchiest and challenging riffs in the new wave of prog metal. The group’s obvious love of polymeter and groove is here in spades, and will keep my head a-bobbing for months to come, only this time it’s far less obvious that the group worships the ground Meshuggah walks on. It’s just a sign that Periphery are now able to take their more glaring influences and turn it into something much more organic and original. Matt Halpern is still smoking every groove-based metal drummer in the game, and with a midget-sized kit. Misha Mansoor & Co. are still interlocking their contrapuntal guitar parts with ease. For proof, the intro riff of “Luck as a Constant” should suffice. The guest guitar solos from Dream Theater’s John Petrucci, guitar wizard Guthrie Govan, and The Faceless’ Wes Hauch also help add a bit of added flare to the album and show yet again the group’s willingness to experiment with new ideas in their songs. Finally, the addition of bassist Nolly Getgood has helped give the group an added bounce in tracks like “Ji”. No offense to old bassist Tom Murphy, but I just couldn’t hear you, dude.
While both of Periphery’s albums do tend to overstay their welcome, this one offers up plenty of twists to keep listeners engaged in just about every song. The heavy parts are heavier, and the catchy parts are definitely catchier. Sure, the superfluous electronic interludes are still here, there’s no “Racecar”, and a few ideas may get repeated. But overall, Periphery is clearly onto something huge. Mark my words; these guys will be replacing Protest the Hero as the fresh, interesting progressive metal band, and maybe even one of the biggest American metal bands within the next five years. Overall, a roaring success worth the attention of any metal enthusiast.