Periphery, hailing from Bethesda, MD, have always been a band to split opinion. What started out in 2005 as a project from multi-instrumentalist and producer Misha Mansoor quickly became a full-blown band. Their early days saw a number of lineup changes, and by the time their self-titled debut came out in 2010, the underground following they had built was already divided over whether the vocalist they had settled on was good enough (I’ve always liked him but he didn’t have the same versatility and power back then). Five years on, the lineup has stabilised and the band has developed its music substantially, but each release seems to bring joy to some fans and rage to others.
This year sees the release of their double concept album, Juggernaut, and finally, it seems, they have managed to please almost everyone. Technically the band has released the two parts as separate albums, Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega. I don’t know if there were genuine artistic reasons for this or if it was for cheeky financial reasons (given the total album only slightly exceeds the CD limit of 80 minutes), but it is a little irritating as both are sold at full price. Still, that’s not really relevant to the music, so let’s move on.
The music, then! Each release from Periphery has brought something new or different for them, and Juggernaut is no different. Certain characteristics thread through everything they’ve done, such as djent riffs, anthemic choruses and the mix of harsh and clean vocals, but each release has had something new about it. In the case of Juggernaut, the instinct might be to suggest that what’s new is that it is their first concept album. And that is true, there is certainly a coherence and narrative here, both musical and lyrical, that we haven’t seen from them before. Some recurring themes are very explicit, while others are more subtle and rather satisfying when you discover them. It really feels like they’ve thought the album through in more depth than their previous releases, which is perhaps not surprising as it is something that Mansoor has been working on, in one guise or another, since Periphery’s early days.
But more than the narrative, Juggernaut also signals some changes in the music itself. For me, there is more balance and variety here. Whereas with previous albums I have seen a clearer distinction between heavy bits, crazy bits, melodic bits, and so on, Juggernaut transitions in and out of all sorts of styles more seamlessly. There is more restraint across the album, and the music more closely fits the lyrical narrative. That said, this is hardly a laid-back, comfortable album. Songs like MK Ultra and Hell Below are absurdly intense, while others have their fair share of very heavy sections.
There is also a clear difference between Alpha and Omega. Alpha is on the whole more melodic and accessible, consisting of shorter songs and some insanely catchy choruses. The first title track, Alpha, epitomises this with its head-invading melodies and enjoyable riffing, and is a personal favourite. Omega, on the other hand is more dense, more proggy, and more intense. Again, the other title track, Omega, stands at the fore, with its 12-minute run time, its intensity, its exploration of styles and its superb reprise of the Alpha chorus.
All in all, Periphery have created a hugely rewarding double album, best listened to in full. While djent is a style that seems to be creeping its way into all sorts of places, often not successfully, for me Juggernaut is the epitome of this type of modern metal. The music is intense but balanced, the performances are fantastic but show appropriate restraint, and the production is both brutal and delicate at the same time.