Words By: Gerrod Harris
Release Date: January 27th, 2015, via Sumerian Records
Periphery, one of metal’s newer, more ambitious bands returns with two new albums produced by their very own Adam “Nolly” Getgood (bass); Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega. Lead guitarist, Misha Mansoor, says the band chose to release two separate albums, “because it is a long haul, even as we were writing it and everything, we were like, ‘Man, this is a lot of material’… I think it makes it a lot more digestible that we had two separate albums because that way, it is sort of treated that way”. Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega look continue to build on their highly impressive discography, since their last release, 2012’s, Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal.
Juggernaut: Alpha starts off slow with the opening track, “A Black Minute”. This is not a bad slow start at all; the song features a more straightforward and melodic approach and slowly builds to a climax towards the end of the song where what was once a very open texture fills up with vocalist, Spencer Sotelo, taking his voice up an octave and the instrumental parts growing to be much more complex and thick. Although the song ends, the climax carries over into the explosive “MK Ultra”. The band rips through the song with screaming vocals, highly distorted and dissonant guitar, and as expected, an odd time signature thrown in every now and then. The song reaches a point of resolution at the end when it completely shifts (as if someone changed the channel on a radio) to a lounge jazz conclusion. “Heavy Heart” seems like the bands attempt at making a modern hard rock hit single, but it far exceeds what most bands would release as a lead single. It follows a simpler structure, almost like a pop song, but with the masterful song writing and performing techniques Periphery are known for.
The songs on Juggernaut: Alpha bleed together phenomenally. Periphery has done a great job of sequencing the songs on the album in that they create a sense of climax or resolution which carries over to the next song. Where it is normal for each song to have its own setting and climax, the previous song on Alpha will often influence the style, textures, and/or feel of the next song. Mansoor explains this as, “movies and things that really have to set an ambiance. A big part of it was that we wanted this to be really cinematic. We wanted there to be a definite vibe to certain parts and to the album in general. It was a dark cinematic vibe and I think a lot of our video game and movie influences probably came through on those”. This is greatly evident in the different transitions throughout the album, especially in the instrumental and ambient track, “The Event” which proceeds directly into a string ensemble playing what sounds to be the suspenseful film score in a thriller film. This happens to be the beginning of “The Scourge”, a track the band released towards the end of 2014. The song continues the suspenseful, on edge theme set by the strings in the beginning, and showcases an excellent balance between a softer, melodic sound introduced earlier on “A Black Minute” and a thrashing, aggressive whirlwind of sound. As far as composition goes, this song demonstrates a matured set of song writing skills. My favorite songs off of Alpha would be the frenzied that is “MK Ultra”, the powerful “Scourge”, the aggressive and highly technical “22 Faces” and the dirty instrumental track, “Four Lights”.
Juggernaut: Omega, much like its accompanying album, blends together quite nicely. It is clear that they intended to write this album with the cinematic state of mind they employed on Alpha. I understand why they chose to split up the two albums, but together it feels like one album. I would recommend listening to the two albums consecutively as if it were one experience. Not only has Periphery created a sense of continuity from song to song, but also between albums. The transition from Alpha to Omega feels natural, almost mandatory. Omega starts off with the slow and hard grooving “Reprise”. This, however, is short lived as the band kicks it up to their top gear once again for the hard hitting “The Bad Thing”. “Priestess” is the most refreshing song of the two albums; trading their traditional sound for an acoustic guitar led intro which eventually grows to become a soundscape of clean, arpeggiated electric guitars and smooth vocals. The song even features two guitar solos which can almost be called mellow. Towards the end they use a similar, softer texture as earlier, but fusing it nicely with heavier elements, and shifts into a slow, melancholy waltz.
“Graveless” is unrelentingly heavy, showing some influence from classic punk rock, while taking up quite a few notches. Everything from the screaming vocals, to the distorted chugging guitars and the busy drums makes “Graveless” one of the heaviest tune on both albums, resembling their hit “The Black Dahlia Murder”. This is sure to be a hit in the mosh pit. “Hell Below” is damn heavy, plain and simple, it’s just a solid, simple, heavy tune, yet it ends with a jazz fusion-esque motif, with a graceful piano part leading the song out, and right into “Omega”. The melodic intro into the closing track, “Stranger Things” perfectly juxtaposes the seer hard hitting force found in the rest of the instruments, creating a unique blend of melodic and aggression. This blend is further emphasized through how Sotelo’s voice switches between singing and screaming.
Periphery’s Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega are both excellent albums with a focus on brilliant structure and busting chops. In that sense, it is like a return to their debut album, Periphery. Automatically, that makes for a great record. Unfortunately, both Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega shied away from the experimental sound found on their previous album, Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal . Personally, I was hoping for something a little more ground breaking, but that does not change the fact that Periphery have delivered not one, but two fantastic albums. They continue to be, in my opinion, one of progressive metals best new bands. Each musician is at the top of their game. It blows my mind how they each not only have the ability to play such impressive lines, but also the skillset and thought process to create said parts. Drummer Matt Halpern can drum circles around most studio veterans who have been in the industry for years and is a constant inspiration on my own playing. Each part from the band is technically very difficult yet you wouldn’t think so listening to them; they play with such ease that it is clear they feel natural navigating through a maze of changing time signatures and polyrhythms with such raw energy.
Without a doubt, both albums are a heavy experience, but it’s the attention to detail and immense musical technique and skill which puts Periphery near the top of modern progressive metal. Both Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega are excellent additions to Periphery’s already impressive collection of albums, and are bound to leave fans eager for their future work. Unlike most progressive metal bands, Periphery is not afraid to break the mold by including techniques, motifs, rhythms, and textures of other styles, which ultimately enhance their music. I still stand by my earlier comment; Periphery is one of hard rock’s most ambitious bands, and with the release of Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega they clearly don’t have any plans to slow down anytime soon.
Also check out Scott and Jeanette’s coverage from Periphery with Nothing More, Wovenwar and Thank You Scientist at the Opera House in Toronto on February 6th, 2015!
& Check out our interview with Misha Mansoor and Adam “Nolly” Getgood where we talk everything Juggernaut!
1: A Black Minute
2: MK Ultra
3: Heavy Heart
4: The Event
5: The Scourge
7: 22 Faces
8: Rainbow Gravity
9: Four Lights
2: The Bad Thing
5: Hell Below
7: Stranger Things