Periphery

Rome wasn’t built in a day, the world has never been less predictable, and “djent” is not a genre. These are all undeniable truths that bind us together as we enter 2023. For genre-shifting GRAMMY® Award-nominated progressive metal quintet Periphery – Misha Mansoor [guitar, programming], Jake Bowen [guitar, programming], Matt Halpern [drums], Spencer Sotelo [vocals], and Mark Holcomb [guitar] – creating the ravenously awaited follow up to 2019’s critically-acclaimed Periphery IV: HAIL STAN [3DOT Recordings] was one of the most difficult experiences it has weathered to date. It was a process that very nearly broke the band. However, with Periphery V: Djent is Not a Genre, Periphery returns with an album that was not only worth the wait, but sees the band nearing the pinnacle of its abilities.

“There were times where I didn’t know how this album would ever come out. I didn’t know how I’d ever feel good about the album, and I’d rather quit the band than put out an album that I don’t feel great about” Mansoor confesses. While Periphery IV took the band a year to write and record – a period that was considered incredibly long for the group at the time – the writing sessions for Periphery V began in earnest in the fall of 2020, making the gestation period for this release the longest in Periphery’s near 17 year history by far.

It was a process fraught with logistical issues stemming from the pandemic, but also challenged by the band’s increasingly high standards for themselves. Mark Holcomb explains “We would do week-and-a-half writing retreats and then take two months away from the material before revisiting it together. We really played by the rules with respect to Covid safety and travel and because of that, we had an almost impractical amount of time to analyze the material between sessions. Our standards are higher than ever, so we all pushed ourselves on this album much harder than we ever have before. It was a hard process because we had to keep ourselves honest to those standards.”

From Mansoor’s perspective, the creative challenges on Periphery V were also tied to avoiding repeating past statements. Mansoor says “We ended up in a very difficult place where we had to ask if we were retreading ground. I always say it’s very simple to make a Periphery record – the only thing we need it to do is excite us. That hasn’t changed, but it’s gotten harder and harder for us to make music that passes muster because we’re ultimately doing it for ourselves. At this point, there’s no reason to make Periphery records other than to make music that we’re proud of, and the stakes are higher because we’ve all grown as writers and players. Material that we would’ve thought was great in the past isn’t cutting it anymore.”

However, the strongest steel is forged in the hottest fires and the strength of Periphery V is unquestionable. With enough “time, stress, and suffering” as Mansoor says, the band found they could solve any problem. Periphery V is an album that sees every sonic weapon in the group’s vast arsenal honed, expanded, and seemingly mastered. The melodies that lace in-and-out of the band’s trademark polyrhythmic churn boast sharper hooks than heard on past Periphery releases. The record’s production, tones, and atmospherics are more textured and engrossing than ever before. Every member of the band has seemingly brought a new spirit to their performances. And yes, that intoxicatingly heavy rhythm guitar assault has leveled up as well.

Periphery V will satiate stalwart fans hoping for a familiar sound after so long away, but it’s also an album made by a band that’s matured in its ability to cohesively blend the disparate elements that have always made it so unique. There are wildly creative twists that speak of a band bravely navigating the outer margins of its sound while progressing thoughtfully beyond the expected. The album opens with a prime example with the track “Wildfire”, a song Mansoor and Holcomb both expect to become a fan favorite and set staple, and a song that shifts from a brutal and anthemic riff fest to a jazz-infused piano excursion – complete with a saucy sax solo by Shining frontman and Haunted Shores contributor Jørgen Munkeby and underpinned by an ultra contemporary electronic bed. The album also features a full-blown electro pop ballad (“Silhouette”) that acts as a beautifully dynamic segue between sides, and guitar solos, like Jake Bowen’s fleet-fingered outing in the middle of “Zagreus”, feel like a song-within-a-song and should remind everyone exactly why Periphery’s trio of string stranglers are considered zenith players among their generation and have repeatedly graced the covers and pages of every important guitar magazine in the business.

The record also features a pair of tracks that could serve as the ultimate thesis statements for what this band does at its best. “Atropos” and “Dracul Gras” find Periphery flexing their uncanny ability to fuse soaring, triumphant melodies and crushing rhythmic ideas into single, fluid journeys that often employs both concepts at once. While this has never been a band that’s shied away from applying a cinematic scope to its music, with these songs, they’ve penned a pair of masterworks that take the classic prog-metal tradition of songs with layers, with forward motion, and with depth, and twist it into something entirely their own. And while both songs boast heaps of this band’s typical jaw-dropping musicianship, the chops somehow take a backseat to the songs as a whole – a testament to how much this band has matured as songwriters.

Periphery V is certainly a album with a lot to process, but it’s one that ultimately feels like a cohesive and direct statement. Mansoor says “The time away between retreats allowed these things to be refined, which is something that’s become very, very important to us. If it isn’t serving the song, we got rid of it. It might have been one of the coolest riffs in a song, but if it wasn’t adding anything to the big picture, it got cut. We’re starting to get a lot more harsh about that and trying to take a much more holistic view of the music we make. I think that leads to this new level of refinement. That took a lot of time for us.”

The wait was long, the process arduous, but the results speak for themselves. Holcomb looks back and ruminates, saying “There were real life challenges this time and I don’t want to understate the impact that the pandemic has had on everybody. All of us in this band went through some life-changing shit. Things were fully primed to knock us off course, so it feels really good to look back and say ‘we got through this because of each other as a band – not because of any one person heroically saving the day.’ We got through it by just having faith in each other. We won the lottery in that sense with this band.”

Mansoor shares the sentiment, explaining “I’m really proud of the material and it was certainly a labor of love and a tough album to make. The feeling that we were going to have to give up because it kept taking so long was so overwhelming at times, that to not just overcome it, but to feel so proud of this album has really galvanized us as a band in a way that I don’t think any other experience could have.”

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