Review: Periphery – Periphery III: Select Difficulty

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Folks, are we excited for new Periphery material? I count a few hands held up in the room. Are you at least a fan of the band’s prior material? Okay, the number just jumped up a few. Finally: are you aware that Periphery is a band? Now we’re all in. I like everything they have done up to this point, so I leaped at the challenge of reviewing Periphery III: Select Difficulty.

This was going to be an important release because of its placement in the band’s discography. As you all may remember Periphery abandoned the numerical titles they had thus far (I and II: This Time It’s Personal) with the double-album Juggernaut: Alpha and Omega. Juggernaut was a lot less heavy than previous material, and the band incorporated many catchy, pop-like choruses; but the combination of high quality songwriting and sheer catchiness resulted in a winning experiment (Paris Hilton even sang its praises years ago in the Toilet). I was nervous – but also excited – to hear the new album, to find out if they fell right back in line with the numerically-titled albums or stuck with the newer Juggernaut style…

The very first track on the album, “The Price Is Wrong,” launches full-speed out of the gate with some extra thrashy djent guitarwork that reminds me a little of Meshuggah‘s “Combustion.” This song contains a lack of Spencer Sotelo’s highly-divisive clean vocals, which may coax the listener into thinking the album is going full-on heavy. We soon have our suspicions proven false.

Track two (“Motormouth”) does continue this pattern of groovy Periphery guitarwork – closer sounding to their debut album than anything else – but from that point on there are a lot of clean, melodic, catchy hooks. A LOT. Every track features at least a few of these soaring, anthem-like choruses that sound like they were engineered for radio airplay. Now I’m not saying the band needs to abandon melody altogether, but history proves that they’ve been more tasteful in the past with combining the heavy with the light, in tracks such as “Ragnarok” from Periphery II and “The Bad Thing” from Juggernaut Alpha. With this newest album, the guys have finally nailed a formula that will either appeal to you or drive you up the wall, like it does to me at this point in their career. There is very little in the way of song structure variation or even emotional engagement scattered throughout the album; it just feels like a product tweaked past the point of perfection.

Though most of the songs follow a pattern in terms of structure, they still manage to hit us with moments of brilliance scattered throughout. As much as I wish the band would cut back on the catchy hooks, there are a couple that still sound incredibly appealing to these ears, namely all the choruses in “Habitual Line-Stepper.” This particular song brings some much-needed double bass drumming during the heavier sections (aligned perfectly with some classic Misha Mansoor guitarwork) resulting in what is definitely the best track of the album. I recommend jamming this song below to get a good idea of how heavy the band can still be, in their particular genre mashup of djent and pop.

Here is my warning to those who really like the band: you will hear the. cheesiest. Periphery. song. ever in “Catch Fire.” It feels so manufactured that I can imagine hearing it played on a CW television show like Arrow (investigate at your own will, I’m not embedding it). It doesn’t help that the refrain contains Spencer rapping over some funky basslines similar to Faith No More‘s “Epic” (scratch what I said before, here’s your link, investigate at will). Although come to think of it, this song’s cheesiness is matched, even exceeded, by the final track “Lun,e, which adds orchestra in the background and a highly chant-able chorus with lyrics that involve phrases like “do you feel the love?” and “don’t let gooooooo!” My friends, that is a pungent cheese there, and it is thick. It might be acceptable if these two songs were isolated incidents, but the whole thing is dripping with excess.

But then we also have excellent songs like “Absolomb” with a head-bangably groovy riff that stays mid-paced throughout its running time and becomes a positive-sounding ballad with some very soulful guitar soloing contained within it. This is what I would call “a terrific Periphery ballad” because it never enters heavy enough territory that it would scare off a non-metalhead. This song is a better ballad than “Priestess” was, from Juggernaut: Omega, and that was a solid ballad. I recommend listening to “Absolomb” to get a good idea of how effective the band can be when not bombarding us with too many disparate elements at once.

I truly believe that a little bit of effort goes a long way, but a lot of effort becomes overbearing. Many of the songs here exceed the five-minute mark, approaching progressive metal territory but never quite matching the complexity of it. This album lacks nuance most of the time, instead throwing “everything and the kitchen sink” at the listener. Periphery III: Select Difficulty feels to me like a product ready for a huge market, and I wish it didn’t because I really do enjoy their previous works. The album is a must-listen for all fans — you might even love the direction that they’re heading in here — but for me it crosses the threshold into accessible heavy metal that gets a lot of play on Pandora or a Sirius XM metal radio station. It feels too safe, yet somehow the writing is also way too ambitious. Each song feels bursting with unnecessary flavor. This formulaic journey eclipses my desire to simply headbang to some great riffs and hum along to the occasional catchy hook. Select Difficulty needed a little restraint. Or a lot of restraint. Or just the right amount of restraint.

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2.5 / 5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

(image via YouTube)

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