Album Review: Periphery, ‘Select Difficulty’

Written By Lucas Jones

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Periphery is a djent band from Washington, D.C. that formed back in 2005. What is “djent” you ask? Pronounced “gent” It is a style of progressive metal utilizing extended range, low tuned guitars. Misha Mansoor from Periphery says it best, “The onomatopoeia of a heavily palm muted distorted guitar chord which is usually played as but not limited to a 4 string double octave powerchord, and as a result sounds much more metallic and sonically present than a ‘chug’ ‘chugga’ or ‘djun’ per se, and which is basically how Periphery would describe its palm muted guitar sound.” Can things besides guitars “djent”? Yes. Basses can djent, but your cat cannot. Drums can djent, though you probably cannot. While djent has become a somewhat memed style, those who listen and play it are very serious about the genre.

Periphery is considered to be one of the founding members of the djent sub-genre, and so each new release is looked on with great enthusiasm. Select Difficulty is their fifth offering, 11 years after releasing a self-titled back in 2005. Let me start by saying, I was super excited for this new release, a statement most fans of the genre could probably agree with. But I have a sneaking suspicion that reception to Select Difficulty will be a point of contention for Periphery fans. To see why, let’s dive right in.

The album starts with “The Price is Wrong”, which was released as a single with mixed response. For a band that relies on long and complex tracks, this short by comparison (3:56) must have left fans with an “uh-oh” mentality. The song itself is great, but functioning as a teaser for the album, better selections could have been made. One of those songs is “Motormouth” which features a groovy as hell breakdown at the end of the track. Another possible candidate could have been “The Way The News Goes…” which is one of my favorite tracks on the album, despite the overly high vocal mix drowning out the much more interesting guitar parts. I enjoyed the clean tap/sliding intro and melody throughout, as it adds another layer to an already dense composition, and perhaps highlights where the song could have gone. “Remain Indoors” suffers from the same issues. It’s not that the vocals don’t fit the song, it’s just that they are literally so high in the mix, it sounds like someone forget to readjust the faders after post processing. “News Goes…”, “Remain”, and the late track “Catch Fire” sound like pop tracks on a prog metal album, even complete with cheesy synths that overpower everything else on “Remain”.

While I do have some issues with the above, there are a ton of great things on this album. “Marigold” starts off with a badass, string intro before launching into a heavy and at time oppressive slow tempo track that crescendo’s nicely, as much of a ballad as you are going to get out of a band like Periphery. “Habitual Line-Stepper” contains some great riffage, and saves this album from losing its way in the middle, which is a traditional weak spot for metal album and baseball teams alike. “Flatline” keeps that trend going, as does “Absolomb” If these two tracks are the direction that the band is heading in, then we have nothing to fear. Intense, sometimes unstable vocals are punctuated by the grooving staccato riffs that we have come to expect. With a cool, and oddly timed (Ill be honest, I tried to count, and I couldn’t figure it out. Such is life.) Instrumental bridge, “Flatline” stands out as a sound that I hope to hear more of on future releases.

Now that I’ve given the album a few listens, I’m torn. What are we to make of an album that mixes accomplished, complex tracks like “Lune”, “Flatline” and “Marigold” with what is essentially pop disguised as metal, such as “Catch Fire, “Remain Indoors”, and “The Way the News Goes…”? Bands are supposed to have solidified their core sound by the third album, and yet Periphery has found themselves in a weird pool of indecision, unsure of whether to continue what seemed to be their evolution into a symphonic djent band, or to apparently sell out and become Evanescence with heavier guitars. As someone with their debut album, Periphery, and Juggernaut Alpha permanently downloaded on Spotify, I’m hoping they lean towards the former. As for this album, Select Difficulty suffers from a failure to launch. There are bits of complex, groovy, symphonic, and melodic goodness here. Unfortunately, we are forced to wade through poor vocal mixing, cheesy synth, and short, pop sounding tracks to find it. Here’s hoping they find their way back for their next album.

Rating 6.5 out of 10

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