As much as PERIPHERY like a joke, there is an obvious ring of truth to this album's title. Jump back a decade and, despite the clumsiness of the term, djent was a decent enough way to describe the music that was starting to proliferate in PERIPHERY's imperious wake. 13 years on from the release of their self-titled debut, Misha Mansoor's band are still the benchmark for the entire djent/tech-metal scene, and even the 'progressive metal' tag seems inadequate in light of the DC quintet's determinedly singular approach. In no way dependent on the musical tropes that made them, they have steadily amassed a hugely impressive catalogue of deep, dense and immersive studio albums, and "Periphery V: Djent Is Not A Genre" is arguably the most immersive of them all.
This is also the heaviest record PERIPHERY have made by some distance. When the first riffs of "Wildfire" come crashing in, the excitement of those early years comes screaming back, but this time technology has allowed Mansoor to inject several jolting doses of brutality into the mix. Coupled with Spencer Sotelo's versatile vocal chops, which become more muscular and nimble with every passing year, it is immediately, thrillingly apparent that PERIPHERY in 2023 are in an uncompromising and creatively fearless mood.
There was a time when they might have written a nine-minute song that was, in essence, a collage of complex riffs with a melody woven in, somewhat optimistically, by Sotelo. Here, "Atropos" showcases a highly evolved version of the same formula, with the frontman's measured, soulful hooks no longer fighting for space and the music elegantly mutating beneath him, progressive in every sense. As ever, the sheer number of ingenious riffs is a relentless joy, but it's the punishing, unapologetic heaviness of the whole enterprise that makes the difference. "Atropos" concludes with a genuinely unnerving tech-doom funeral march and a burst of instrumental, Hitchcockian indulgence: an audacious contrast, elegantly executed. Similarly, "Wax Wings" is a feast of askance melody for at least half of its eight minutes, but as the song edges artfully forward, it blooms into a monstrous, prog metal symphony, replete with cinematic strings.
PERIPHERY can do brevity too, albeit with the caveat that repetition is seldom on the agenda. "Everything Is Fine!" is a pure adrenalin rush, and the most unashamedly metal thing here. The grooves are unstoppable, Sotelo's vocals are a revelation, and the final riff is simply disgusting. What else could come next, then, but a sublime, soft-focus pop-metal mirage like "Silhouette"? A moment of sparkling, glitched out respite, it rolls silkily into "Dying Star": a lithe and intricate alt-rock sprawl with a gorgeous, multi-voice chorus that spirals reassuringly up, into the ether.
These more succinct moments are fleeting, however. "Periphery V" concludes with half an hour of the finest music its creators have ever written. Preview single "Zagreus" is another colossal epic with endless riffs, another miraculous Sotelo vocal and a beautifully serene instrumental mid-section. Meanwhile, "Dracul Gras" and "Thanks Nobuo" both highlight the difference between dazzling everyone with technicality and complexity and assimilating that mentality into the art of songwriting. PERIPHERY have always been sophisticated, but "Dracul Gras" is a flat-out masterpiece of interwoven ideas and flawless musicianship. From bewildering riff avalanche to arena-size hooks and on, to the beatific shimmer of its synth-driven epilogue, it would make a perfectly adequate/jaw-dropping finale. But PERIPHERY were obviously determined to make this their longest album to date, and so the wildly eccentric "Thanks Nobuo" brings the curtain down instead, using jittery electronica and a thick wash of synths to offset yet another assault from the Mansoor riff arsenal.
Active since the mid noughties, PERIPHERY have made several genuinely great records along the way, but never one as adventurous or as complete as this. And again, while we expect them to be pretty fucking heavy, "Periphery V: Djent Is Not A Genre" ups that particular ante all over again. Being pummeled by the future has never felt so good.
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