There comes a time in every person’s life where they listen to an album, read a story, or watch a movie that speaks to them on a subconscious level. There’s a connection and a mirror is opened up so that they see a part of themselves, or a part of the human experience, in a piece of art. I feel like it takes a certain level of honesty to get to this point for a band. When this happens, it isn’t just the vocalist or the guitarist speaking for the band, it is each member working cohesively to capture an emotion. When an artist does this the music unfurls and, like a field of wildflowers, the world is illuminated in color and light.
I found this reflection staring back at me as I listened through Periphery’s 4th LP (if you count Juggernaut as one). This album is not only the band’s greatest accomplishment to date, in terms of cohesiveness and concept, but it is also one of the best metal albums to come out this year.
Select Difficulty is a culmination of everything Periphery has been building towards in their career. The lurching, stop-start Meshuggah worship found on their S/T exist skeletally within tracks like “The Price is Wrong” and “Motormouth”. The polished, tight composition and production first really evident on P:II is more matured as the band evolves as musicians, and the theatrical elements from Juggernaut shine through on tracks like “Absolomb” and “Lune”. Everything follows the path of a logical evolution, including the continuation of a concept. In the wake of Juggernaut, a concept album that I loved but also felt confined them musically, the band has actually created a product that has more of an emotional ebb and flow while simultaneously exploring the variety of sounds that comprise their discography. At the center of it all is the most honest concept the band has yet explored: self-doubt. The songs work through the stages of that emotion, ranging from the initial frustration, to the gripping depression, and finally the beauty of discovering and accepting one’s self.
The album starts out with two of its most aggressive songs: “The Price is Wrong” and “Motormouth”. The lyrics are knee-jerk; the music volatile and aggressive. For some, this might be a turnoff, for others it’s a wonderful trip down memory lane to albums like Slipknot’s Iowa or Mudvayne’s L.D.50. And while neither of the previously mentioned are their strongest tracks, they are a fun listen. They play like a bad fever dream. Hot and venomous guitars churn together underneath the thunder of Matt Halpern’s bombastic drumming, digging deeper and deeper until reaching a miniature climax, found in the symphonic and anthem-carried “Marigold”. The song itself is an instant classic for them, supported by everything that makes Periphery great. Catchy riffs marry perfectly with a massive chorus, heralding the call for a last stand. It’s a chill inducing song and absolutely show-stopping live. As the first section of this album comes to a close there’s a wash of color, and the aggression subsides in the glow of ambient noise. The interludes actually serve a purpose on this album, something I felt was lacking on P:II. Like a glass of cold water, sound subdues the fire and gives way to the second act of the album.
If the first three songs are the raging of a drunkard in the darkness of night, the middle section of this album between “The Way the News Goes…” and “Absolomb” is the sober morning after. The sun rises again, and “The Way…” breaks from the darkness, shining through like a kaleidoscope of colors and textures. Underneath the upbeat dance of guitar licks and bouncing groove there’s a sadness that permeates through not just the song, but the whole album. It’s subtle but there, like a cold fall breeze that tugs at your sleeve when you stand on the side of a mountain, gently reminding you that all things die before being reborn. The ending to “The Way…” is perfection, delicately referencing “Lune’s” main riff. This middle section of this album is an incredible contrast to Juggernaut’s crushing heaviness and sounds like a band feeling creatively liberated. Songs are natural and feel like a breath of fresh air. Even “Habitual-Line Stepper”, a song I didn’t like at first, feels creative and refreshing. Lyrically, this is one of Spencer Sotelo’s most honest songs as he focuses his anger inward instead of outward, tearing to pieces the façade he has set up through crafting songs rife with apocalyptic imagery and vague conceptualization. While songs like “Flatline” and “Remain Indoors” are excellent, the real masterpiece of this section is “Absolomb”. Starting like a man stumbling through a drug-infused haze, the song quickly takes flight, breaking through the storm clouds into the gold of a setting sun. The vocals soar on this track and the orchestral ending is absolutely breathtaking. This song is Periphery reaching their true potential and, when they do, it’s such a wonder to behold.
The album ends, conceptually, with “acceptance”. “Prayer Position” is the aggressive capstone of this album, bringing to a head the negativity and self-loathing that has culminated throughout the music. The anger boils from verse to verse, only interrupted by one of Spencer’s best hooks to date. The heaviness grows and grows, until finally coming to a screeching halt. Part of me wishes there was a little more, one final epic chorus, but the song is certainly not a disappointment.
Every great journey goes through a story arch, starting with the exposition and leading to the resolution. With an album, the tricky part of its construction is hitting the climax without losing any steam before reaching your closing statement or just leaving the audience abruptly without any sense of closure. “Lune” does neither of those things. It is executed perfectly as a resolution and is, without question, Periphery’s most beautiful moment to date. It is the flawless final statement to an album so filled with anger, frustration, and self-loathing. The emotional highs are enough to leave anyone speechless. Every moment of this song resonates with the voice of each individual band member, a final statement on what it means to not only be a member of Periphery, but what it means to be human. We all long for acceptance; to find that person or group of people that make you feel whole. “Lune” is one the most beautiful song written this year and, regardless of your feelings for the band, there is no denying the tangible emotion that burns forth from it.
Periphery has been lambasted for not taking things too seriously, a hyperbole overplayed through joke after joke about their next album name. But the more I think about it, the more it becomes clear that each title isn’t dart thrown at a bulletin board of jokes. There is a reasoning behind it. Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal was a statement, a celebration of a band actually coming together to prove themselves within the metal community. Periphery III: Select Difficulty follows suit. This album is intentional, and the title is a reference to the mindset with which they approached the album. It’s never been about fitting in with this band, but in doing so and rejecting metal stereotypes they deny themselves the safe route, the road tread over and over again by their peers. Music
This album selects the later and, as a result, bears a more fruitful product, the end result serving as a map to what lies in front of them.