Despite the many contrarians and detractors that initially wrote them off for inspiring the djent movement, Periphery have become an institution in progressive metal as they approach the release of their fifth full-length album Periphery III: Select Difficulty. Each album so far has rocked rotation in their respective years of release, with last year’s double album Juggernaut taking up two spots on our year-end list of favorites. Admittedly though, despite the fandom around these parts, Heavy Blog staff approached Select Difficulty with a bit of apprehension; after dropping two full-lengths, are we ready for new material from Periphery, or would they be overstaying their welcome? Believe it or not, between the band’s six songwriters, there’s plenty of good ideas knocking around a year later. In fact, Select Difficulty may be the group’s best collection of songs since their self-titled debut.
Select Difficulty unloads immediately with the record’s two heaviest tracks, “The Price Is Wrong” and “Motormouth.” The tracks focus on low end riffing and Spencer Sotelo’s ever-improving harsh vocal performance. “Motormouth” in particular has a swagger reminiscent of golden era nu-metal (if there ever were such a thing) and is further evidence of Sotelo’s fandom of Slipknot and Corey Taylor. Though “Habitual Line-Stepper” goes hard with a ridiculously executed breakdown in the album’s halfway point, the rest of the album is more typical of the kind of material one would expect to hear on Alpha, but with some improvements and newfound idiosyncrasies.
In accompanying press materials for the record, guitarist Misha Mansoor discusses how Select Difficulty is the first Periphery record to feature a Moog keyboard and live orchestra. Synths are not new territory to Periphery, but they play a major role in many tracks across Select Difficulty to the point that they are often primary songwriting tools and not just transitional or atmospheric padding. Highlight “Marigold” feels like a symphonic take on The Human Abstract and the bridge to “Remain Indoors” spirals into darting synth arpeggios, building up Periphery as a sonically versatile act that continues to adapt and push their sound forward. These orchestrations help drive the album down a different road into territory only briefly explored in the past. The amount of orchestration on this record is something to marvel at, especially given how well it works in the grand scheme of the album. It’s wouldn’t be surprising to see live orchestras playing these parts, largely because it feels like they were written for a live performance with an accompanying ensemble.
As Periphery develops their sound with each passing album, the true shining star has been Sotelo. Select Difficulty sees the vocalist at his most diverse and adventurous, delivering passionate hooks during melodic highs and devastatingly vicious vocal delivery during the record’s most extreme moments. Comparing his performance on Periphery with Select Difficulty is like night and day. Sotelo was once a source of controversy and negative criticism, but has since grown from freshman ringer to MVP and has delivered his finest performance to date. Look to “Flatline” for evidence of Sotelo’s mastery of both clean and harsh vocals. While his harsh vocals have seen substantial improvement, his clean vocals really shine now more than ever. Since the band experimented with Clear, it’s become clear (heh) that the band understands how to write music that will compliment Spencer’s pop singing style. His presence has become a focal point for much of their music, and his delivery has helped the rest of the band feel less pressured to focus so much on individual instruments and help the band write catchy songs that still pack a large punch.
It must be said that the biggest factor to contribute to the quality of Select Difficulty is that after years of working together, the band finally truly feels like a cohesive unit. Juggling the input of six different songwriters to craft their unique sound must be difficult beyond words, but as evidenced by the jam-session inspired closer “Lune,” Periphery have, to the joy of many, finally found something that had eluded them for so long: how to take all of their influences, put them together, and make them work. Never before had the band written such a memorable and interesting collection of songs for one album. It’s long overdue for a band that some always felt had wasted potential. With Select Difficulty, Periphery are destined to reach heights never seen before for the band.