Periphery, The Defining Act of Modern Metal Still Stays Strong

Written by Gordon Beck, Photo by Travis Shinn

I was a big fan of Periphery back in 2014. I would blast their anthems in my earbuds between my high school classes every day without fail - anthems that sounded so unique they were difficult to follow or pin down at times, yet still somehow always came across as catchy and infectious. It’s mind boggling how they managed to do that, with all the modulations, jazz chords, shredding, and often death metal levels of aggression covering every chorus. Anyone with knowledge of music theory or songwriting can imagine how difficult it would be to blend those elements together and still sound accessible. But that’s just what Periphery did. 

They were so good at it, too, that they quickly established themselves as one of the most influential heavy metal bands of the past 10 to 15 years. In the early 2010s, they had pushed the genre into a new scene entirely, helping spawn The Polyphias and Animals As Leaders of the World. Their guitarist and founding member, Misha Mansoor, literally coined the term “djent.” Any fan with even a slight inclination towards metal has heard the term - referring to the band’s signature guitar sound and playing style which favors low, extended range tuning, syncopation, and polyrhythms. Djent would go on to seep its way into nearly every heavier guitar-based artist of the last decade; it’s been impossible to escape extended range guitars popping up virtually everywhere since 2015. We can thank Periphery for that. The incorporation of djent got so ubiquitous that people even started calling it its own genre. This sparked debate as many audiophiles argued an entire genre couldn’t be based on a guitar sound alone. Fans still bickered. Now in 2023, Periphery aims to end that debate with the release of their fifth album, humorous and defiant in its title: Djent Is Not a Genre. 

I stopped listening to the band around 2016  as their sound began to simplify. It was becoming more straight forward, more pop, and wasn’t in line with what made me fall in love with their music early on.  My tastes changed over the years, and soon I wasn’t listening to much djent at all. But upon hearing the singles leading up to the new album’s release, my curiosity resurfaced. The band didn’t sound quite as multilayered and constantly evolving as their earlier days, but their core elements were more focused and came across as strong as ever. Now hearing the entire album, my qualms have unfortunately been confirmed yet again. However, there is much to admire here despite a difference in taste.

Periphery’s signature blend of clean and harsh vocals is on full display, yet another trend within metal they helped set with the myriad of copycat bands mashing together surgically sterile pop hooks and screaming. Across the genre, this can be cringeworthy. While Periphery doesn’t always stick the landing, occasionally sounding like Disney for gothic adults, they never induce the same eyerolls. There is a conviction and passion to every performance and a healthy helping of interesting and unexpected musical ideas that immediately make it apparent the band is on another level from their contemporaries.

It is this signature vision and nuance in their writing and instrumentals that helps sell passages that otherwise might be grating. The guitar solos and lengthy prog progressions are a treat to the ears, and the string sections - while sometimes melodramatic - add another layer of versatility and depth. No matter how ‘out there’ the songs may venture, every track features a strong hook and memorability which many prog bands struggle to maintain. Periphery practically shows off how effortless this is for them. Tracks like “Dracul Gras” harken back to the sound the band had ten years ago, filled with the impossible hooks I remember from high school. Other tracks like “Everything is Fine!” and “Wax Wings” blend the catchy vocals well with virtuosic playing, earth shattering aggression, and great implementation of effects pedals.

It is impossible not to admire how Periphery still lies on the forefront of displaying such unrelenting musical ideas so seamlessly with a pop coat of paint. It doesn’t always work, but it still never fails to impress on a level other bands simply cannot reach. To some, the cognitive dissonance in response to these clashing elements won’t exist, and in that case, here lies an album with many soaring highs.

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