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Periphery - "Periphery III: Select Difficulty" (CD)

Periphery - "Periphery III: Select Difficulty" CD cover image

"Periphery III: Select Difficulty" track listing:

1. The Price Is Wrong 3:57
2. Motormouth 4:50
3. Marigold 7:33
4. The Way The News Goes 5:04
5. Remain Indoors 6:20
6. Habitual Line-Stepper 6:52
7. Flatline 5:51
8. Absolomb 7:44
9. Catch Fire 3:54
10. Prayer Position 4:37
11. Lune 7:47

Reviewed by on August 8, 2016

"Well done, Mr. Mansoor. You've managed to produce the best metal album of the year so far and it'll be hard to top."

I took a good second look at Periphery while attending Chicago Open Air and liked what I heard so I chose to review this just-released album. Let me say that while their live show won me over, their new album impressed me even more. “Periphery III: Select Difficulty” is a masterpiece which will define Periphery's career for years to come.

The first thing that immediately hit me was that there was far more emotion in both Spencer Sotelo's vocals and Misha Mansoor's guitar playing on this album than in their entire discography so far. I'm not sure if he's been seeing a vocal coach or if this is just a natural evolution from constant touring but he never once bored me. His vocal patterns on “The Price Is Wrong” are consistently interesting and often come across like a much more animated Jens Kidman. He continues to impress across the rest of the album, often alternating between singing and screaming and doing it all well, particularly on “Flatline.” This is a perfect example of a vocalist at his apex delivering the performance of his life.

Misha Mansoor began experimenting a bit more with his songwriting on the sprawling “Juggernaut” double album but worked a bit too hard on making each album differentiated from the other. As a result each album felt like it was a bit less special. “Periphery III” doesn't have that issue. The songwriting is also a lot more focused this time around. In a lot of ways, less is more and despite being only a single album, “Periphery III” is one of the best albums that I've not only heard this year but one of the best that I've heard in the past several.

That isn't even getting into how Mansoor's guitar playing is every bit as soulful as Sotelo's vocals, particularly on “Absolomb” and “Lune.” He was always a good guitarist but he's elevated himself beyond mere technicality and managed to inject himself personally into the most soulless and mechanical of metal genres and actually play djent with heart. His leads are fine but his solos often feel a bit too short, which is a minor complaint.

Every song has its own personality. They are often too long for casual listens but it's a varied album. If there's any stand-out track, it's “Marigold.” It's a perfect example of everything that Periphery are capable of within its seven minutes and thirty three seconds. It has everything from catchy, yet technical riffing to a soaring chorus with guitar leads running under it. That isn't even touching on the keyboard intro, the spoken word segment or Sotello using every single vocal technique he's capable of.

“Absolomb” and “Catch Fire” are back to back ballads (and good ones at that). When most bands as heavy as Periphery try their hand at ballads, they frequently fail, but Periphery not only succeed but make it seem easy. I wouldn't be surprised if Periphery get a radio hit or possibly a Grammy out of this album, particularly considering the overt bias that that Grammies have towards American bands. If anything it would be a great kick in the ass for a rock radio medium that relies too heavily on the 90s and never progressed beyond it. “Catch Fire” is the stronger of the two but honestly, I can see either be Periphery's big hit that breaks them into the mainstream like “Black Hole Sun” did for Soundgarden.

“Habitual Line Stepper,” “Prayer Position,” and “Motormouth” are the heaviest tracks on the album. For all that I've said about Periphery's increased emotional range, when they want to, Periphery can still kick your ass. For any doubters who think that they've gone soft, Periphery may know when to aim for your heart but still know when to rip your face off. And even when they do go soft, it never feels like selling out so much as it does expanding Periphery's sound.

“The Way The News Goes” is the most forgettable track and should have been saved for a bonus on a special edition since it adds nothing to the album. It isn't a bad track but it's merely outclassed by everything else being so memorable. That's literally my only complaint but considering how much Tool I've listened to and how much filler their albums have, one weak track isn't that bad when the album is taken as a whole.

Speaking of Tool, “Periphery III” is the closest thing to a new Tool album that we'll be getting for the foreseeable future and also reminds me at times of Slipknot's “Vol 3: The Subliminal Verses” in all the right ways. “Periphery III” is a masterful achievement that will go down as an absolutely classic album to be cited by future artists as an inspiration for years to come. I wouldn't be surprised if Periphery play the entire full album on a future tour.

So let it be said that Periphery have finally lived up to the hype. Any fan of technical or progressive metal deserves to listen to this. It's a fantastic album that deserves the widest audience it can get. It's the best parts of both “Juggernaut” albums in one and the absolute best piece of music that Periphery have produced so far. Well done, Mr. Mansoor. You've managed to produce the best metal album of the year so far and it'll be hard to top.

Highs: Varied songwriting. Proof that djent can be played with emotion.

Lows: 'The Way The News Goes' feels uninspired compared to how good the rest of the album is. Guitar solos are often too short.

Bottom line: Periphery finally realize their potential and live up to the hype.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)