I have a complicated relationship with prog. There are aspects of it that I despise, and if a band relies too heavily on those aspects I wall myself off and listen to Deathspell Omega or whatever. At the same time, many of my favorite bands borrow heavily from it. However, my love/hate relationship still holds great sway in terms of what bands I’ll allow myself to enjoy. Rush? Hated them until fairly recently. Tool? Always loved ‘em. Dream Theater? Fuck off. Between the Buried and Me? Still have a soft spot for them. Emerson, Lake & Palmer? Go wait in the car. King Crimson? Yes please. I’m about as reliably pleased with anything prog-based as I am by anything with a breakdown in it, which is to say, it varies wildly on a case-by-case basis.

Which theoretically makes me perhaps not the best guy to be reviewing Periphery’s new album. But really, this makes me uniquely qualified, in that if there’s anything on the album that will lure in anyone other than sweaty prog nerds with ponytails and forehead acne or socially awkward metal kids who’ve graduated from Black Tide to Sumeriancore, it’d have to appeal to guys like me, insecure elitists passing judgment on other metal fans for no discernible reason. And while Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal has plenty of elements to it that make me cringe, I’ll be goddamned if it didn’t charm the shit out of me. In fact, at the very least, I have to admit that the elements of the band that don’t sit well with me — lyrics packed with awkwardly verbose armchair philosophizing, saccharine clean-singing choruses, wafer-thin Meshuggahisms, and non-metal electro-asides — are at least done well. One can even warm up to them after a while. At its worst, Periphery II is a thoroughly enjoyable guilty pleasure. At its best, it’s a goddamn fine album.

What makes it work is the band’s grasp of dynamics: the record ebbs and flows through stuttering lower register riffs, sugary choruses, and atmospheric softer parts. But instead of a kitchen-sink approach to songwriting, there are, well, actual songs here, with memorable parts that make them distinct. When the gooey melodic parts start becoming indistinguishable like peanut M&Ms stuck together at the bottom of a bag in a hot car, the song around them still retains its own personality. Which is why Perhiphery II’s 69 minutes (lol, sigh) generally aren’t a chore. They’re enjoyable, occasionally evocative, and often brilliant.

Take, for instance, the album’s best two songs: “Ragnarok” and “The Gods Must Be Crazy!” The former opens with a pretty bold-faced ripoff of something off Meshuggah’s latest (though considering the timeline of that, who knows who’s ripping off whom at this point) unraveling into some great melodic parts punctuated by a killer high note hit by vocalist Spencer Sotelo followed by a two-minute coda of swirling processed guitar and drum machine that fades into the latter: the band at their catchiest, producing something certainly more memorable than anything rock radio has spewed forth in the last decade (if only we lived in a world where growling or screaming didn’t guarantee you a spot on the mainstream bench). And those songs just kick off the second half of the record, which includes a predictably ridiculous John Petrucci solo and This Time It’s Personal’s heaviest riff at the end of “Masamune” (seriously, it’s a little absurd), which closes out the record. Despite it supposedly not being a concept album, there’s a sonic narrative. When the aforementioned riff kicks in, you realize you’ve been waiting for it the whole time.

While it may not be arty or pretentious (well, the “right kind” of pretentious), Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal offers more than instrumental wankery. Though there’s certainly plenty of that — John Petrucci’s solo is preceded by drummer Matt Halpern quietly going nuts—it lacks my main complaint about prog: soullessness. There’s feeling and meaning embedded in the record that make even the cheesiest moments feel earned. In my lifelong struggle with all things proggy, I think Periphery belong on the right side of it. The noodling and polyrhythms have a center to revolve around, which is something a lot of guys who sound like Periphery don’t consider.

Periphery, Periphery II: Electric Boogalloo This Time It’s Personal

(3 ½ out of 5 horns)


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