Review: Juggernaut: Alpha & Juggernaut: Omega by Periphery
Sup, losers? I have gathered you here because I would like to review the new releases of one my favourite bands in metal and in general: Periphery. I’m sure that Periphery is a band that needs no introduction. Whether you are a fan like me, or despise them so much that you spam metal forums with ignorant, barely comprehensible homophobic slurs about Sotelo’s pop-inspired vocals, their impact on the modern metal scene is undeniable. Since 2005 (ten fucking years ago now!), Periphery has been putting a much needed fresh, modern, and audibly sexy spin to prog rock. A genre that although I love, has started to get a “creepy uncle who totally smoked a joint with Geddy Lee in ‘84 and makes your step-sister really uncomfortable” vibe to it.
Personally, I am fan of Periphery because of their technicality, OCD level of perfectionism to production, and god-tier talent with their instruments. Yet for how technical and proficient with their instruments that they are, they still write songs that are catchy and actually sound like songs; rather than writing guitar masturbation tunes that sound like some 35 year old dude with a 9-string guitar and a ponytail making a Youtube video of his “sick sweeps” (looking at you here, Necrophagist). I feel that the band’s songwriting ability really shone through in their 2014 release, Clear; in which each band member was given complete creative control of their own tracks. Guitarist Jake Bowen referred to this EP as “an experiment to explore all of the different writing styles in the band.” Like all bands, Periphery has a “signature sound”, but they are constantly evolving, experimenting, and trying new things. No two Periphery releases sound exactly the same, Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega are no exceptions.
I referred to Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega from Sumerian Records and the Periphery boys as “releases” because they are being released as two separate albums; both of which are coming out on January 27th. This is a bold strategy, but hey, if it can work for fellow prog metaller Heavy Devy, I believe that it can work for Periphery [Editor’s Note: This strategy also paid off for another wildly divisive band back in the day]. I refuse to believe that a prog metal band would release two albums on the same day without Easter Eggs. Whether it be from listening to two songs from the two albums simultaneously, listening to a song backwards, or in some mathematical algorithm, I know that some obsessive nerd somewhere will find some mind-blowing message or sequence. This is a metal blog so there are surely some obsessive nerds here, and I know Easter Eggs will be found. Happy hunting, folks!
Because Periphery are releasing these two Juggernaut albums separately, I will be reviewing the Alpha and the Omega separately. The band’s intention is for the these albums to be listened to consecutively, and my intention is for my reviews to be read the same way. It doesn’t take rocket appliances to figure it out, people. I’ll give an overview of highlights and lowlights of each album. What made me laugh. What made me cry. What made me want to die. So tune your favorite 7-string Jackson, throw on the deepest V-neck you got to let the hamburger meat breathe, crack open your Rolling Rock (or, whatever you’re drinking), and let’s review some fucking Periphery!
Please note: During the course of my review, I am going to avoid using the word “Djent”. Metal is hyper categorized as it is, and I think defining an artist with a onomatopoeia of their instruments instead of concentrating on the art is pedantic and somewhat petty. It’d be like calling Technical Death Metal “Weedly Weedly Weedly Weedly DUN DUN DUN, DUNDUN DUNNNNNN!” It’s silly.
Juggernaut: Alpha is not just an album containing prog metal songs; it is a true progressive metal album. The opening track, “A Black Minute” kicks the album off with an atmospheric (God, I hate that reviewers buzzword, but it fits!) rhythm that lingers in the soul like rich pipe tobacco on a brisk autumn morning. Sotelo’s vocal harmonies mold the song into a thick, stoic piece of music. From there, the album builds in a way that excites and inspires. To use an old cliché, this album is a rollercoaster ride. “MK Ultra”, is a frantic, chaotic piece that utilizes sweeps in way that sound like they naturally belong, rather than tacked on flourishes to show off that they’re “rly good musicians”. The end of the track also has a little jazzy interlude, it makes me feel like I’m on an elevator on my way to the rest of this album.
The highlights of this album are “Heavy Heart”, “Alpha” and “22 Faces”. What made “Heavy Heart” really stand out to me was the Iron Maiden-esque guitarmonies, the vocal harmonies that could compete with those found in Top 40 pop (if this comes off as a backhanded compliment, let me assure you, it’s not. Writing vocal melodies that captivate the globe is a LOT fucking easier said than done). A strong rhythm section drives the vocal melodies in the chorus to create a heavy hook that you could sing along to. The titular track, “Alpha” starts with an electronic version of the main riff. The defining riff chugs along with a bounciness to it that makes it one of the few of metal songs that a person could dance to. Unlike a Tim Burton movie, this track has excellent pacing. Everything about this track feels like it was written sincerely, not just for the sake of being as heavy as possible or fitting a certain niche; which is something too many modern metal bands fall prey to.
The seventh track, “22 Faces”, was my personal favorite highlight of this album. This prog banger, which was featured on The Rolling Stone, is the perfect example of what I mean when I say that Periphery is one of the best bands in terms of songwriting in the game right now. The song has a larger-than-life aura to it and it gets me fucking stoked! At long last: the fist-pumping, beer-can-shotgunning, fingerblasting-in-the-moshpit excitement of stadium rock meets the frantic, neurotic, yet completely calculated nature of technical death metal to form four minutes of a headbanging haven.
In conclusion, Juggernaut: Alpha will give Periphery fans a really good reason to be excited for the 27th. I don’t think it will be an album that will completely 180 non-fans minds about Periphery and their sound, but it is a “juggernaut” album that will definitely grab the attention of the metalsphere and beyond. The songwriting is god-tier, the production is better than ever, and it’s a demonstration of the evolution of Periphery’s sound; both commercially and artistically.
I give Juggernaut: Alpha ONE FLUSH – but only as a courtesy flush to remove the stench of the haters.
Listening to two Periphery albums right after each other is a lot like masturbating twice in a row. It’s awesome, but about 15 minutes in you start to wonder what you’re getting yourself into and if it’s time to get a fucking girlfriend already. There’s really not much I can say about Juggernaut: Omega that I haven’t already said about Juggernaut: Alpha. What I can say is Omega does have a slower, more melodic vibe than its sister album. Omega is three tracks shorter than Alpha, but thanks to the 7 minute plus length of some songs in true prog fashion, I would say the run time of both albums clocks in at about the same.
I am probably going to get crucified for this, but Omega reminds me of a modernized Iron Maiden album. The triple guitar ensemble of Misha Mansoor, Jake Bowen, and Mark Holcomb plays no small part in this comparison. Guitarmonies showcased in tracks such as “Priestess” are reminiscent those found on A Matter Of Life And Death (that album ruled, fuck the haters). The rhythm section of Matt Halpern and Adam Getgood carry these melodies subtly but powerfully.
Omega also utilizes Sotelo’s death metal bark more liberally in contrast to Alpha; the vocals in the latter ranged more in the hard rock and pop ballparks. Tracks like “The Bad Thing”, “Hell Below”, and “Graveless” (this track brings the mosh!) have a technical death metal crunch that soulfully adds a sense of balance to the melodic mood of the rest of the album. The riffs are heavy, choppy, and kick some serious ass! My only beef is that at times the heaviness of the album can be guilty of “riff salad”. The riffs, albeit their ass-kicking properties, are nothing that you haven’t heard before. However, this album stays interesting through EDM and jazz inspired interludes, heavy pop hooks, and stellar pacing. Because the album does not rely on riffs alone, the riffs that are contained in this album have room to breathe. They never feel forced or tired, but flow effortlessly like the sweet Holy waters of the Nile, as natural parts of the songs.
I prefer Alpha over Omega, but if you’re a Periphery fanboy why the fuck would just listen to just one of the two? The prog genre is infamous for releasing more content than Activision DLC; sometimes there’s just too much material for a single album. With Alpha and Omega, Periphery is releasing 17 tracks. They could fit it all on a single album, but I feel that somehow the fans will be get more by splitting the releases in two. Human psychology is funny like that. The people who buy physical copies of the albums will actually be getting more in the form of more artwork and extra physical manifestations of the music that makes them happy. Both of which are important to music fans; as they should be.
I give Juggernaut: Omega one HALF FLUSH. The riff salad in this album can get tiring at times, and I want to conserve water.
Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega come out on January 27th via Sumerian Records. Will you buy one? Buy both? Buy neither? Discuss these new albums, Misha’s fashion choices, the inevitable Periphery fanboying/hate that will take place, and more in the comments!