Largely lacklustre despite some moments of genuine brilliance, Periphery misses a beat with its fifth album.
Having followed Washington, D.C., six-piece Periphery since their self-titled debut in 2010, to be honest I have found my enthusiasm waning in recent years. They came out swinging with that release in all its game-changing glory, and their rapid rise to prominence off of its back was well-deserved. But Periphery appears to have reclined quite comfortably into its international status as heroes of djent, and latest record Periphery III: Select Difficulty is quite telling in that respect.
That’s not to sat it’s a total train wreck. Opener ‘The Price Is Wrong’ introduces itself with a dazzling display of jagged percussion and itchy guitar grooves that have become the trademark of any Periphery album, with satisfyingly regular chugs and unpredictable time signatures. But therein lies the problem: unless you are a professionally-trained musician or an ultimate fanboy, you probably won’t be able to separate this album from any of the previous four.
There are indeed instances in Select Difficulty where Periphery pushes the boat out stylistically. The orchestral string and choral elements of ‘Marigold’ are delightful when set alongside Spencer Sotelo’s clean vocals. But these examples are few and far between, used only as intros, outros, or as a gloss over the same old djent grooves. I would love to have seen the classical parts integrated further into the album because they just work – that is the direction the band should have pushed in. Leave the organ-crunching heaviness to prog groups like Meshuggah because Periphery has always won fans over with soaring, atmospheric vocals and synths. Don’t get me wrong: this album is progress, but it’s simply not enough for a band with six years experience of slamming the conventions of genre.
By and large, Select Difficulty is more of the same Periphery from the opening until eighth track ‘Absolomb,’ which opens with a surprising stylistic twist: its dirty shuddering bass guitar sounds like it could fall into yet more djent chugs but instead ascends into utterly gorgeous synth guitar and more of Sotelo’s superlunary vocals. It is the most listenable track on the album, with layer on layer of captivating instrumental and vocal majesty that, for almost eight minutes, makes you forget about the previous drudgery. ‘Catch Fire’ follows up with an interesting, almost Oriental opening that unfortunately falls flat after thirty seconds. Mercifully, final track ‘Lune’ follows in the footsteps of ‘Absolomb’ and ‘Marigold’ with more synths and orchestral elements, yet it fails to provide a solid close to the album.
In sum, the two or three lilting tracks are very welcome but not enough to save Select Difficulty. For most of the hour-long listen it is largely inseparable from previous releases. Though the one positive outcome of this is that it makes the genuinely good tracks all the more sweet, I doubt this was a conscious decision from Periphery.
Periphery III: Select Difficulty is out now through Century Media Records