In the world of progressive metal, the Washington, D.C. based sextet, Periphery, are positively prolific, having released four albums and two EPs since 2010. Periphery III: Select Difficulty brings the album count to five, and comes a mere 18 months after the group dropped the twin albums, Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega. Clearly, the group does not lack for ambition.
Two questions spring to mind when getting ready to hit play on Select Difficulty: will Periphery deliver on that ambition and, who is getting to select the difficulty, the listener or the band? The first answer is ‘no’, but following on from the critical and commercial success of Juggernaut, and without the intriguing concept that fuelled the EP, Clear, that was always going to be a longshot. As for the second question, the answer is ‘the band’, and Periphery have opted for the maximum difficulty setting.
Select Difficulty opens with the one-two punch of The Price Is Wrong and Motormouth, which waste no time in bludgeoning the listener with djent tones and pounding riffs from the guitar triumvirate of Misha Mansoor, Jake Bowen, and Mark Holcomb. Prog-metal has never been a genre to have fair-weather fans, but this will probably discourage some from getting farther into the album and reaching the progressive tracks. Strings open Marigold, briefly shocking the audience to attention before the guitars kick in. This is not quite symphonic-metal, but that was clearly an influence, and the choral work and repeated string section work to counterpoint the various metal genres that get a nod as the song wends its way to an extended, atmospheric outro.
Spencer Sotelo applies different vocal deliveries – screams, growls, clean, melodic – across the album as required, but there is a nasal, whiney quality that pops up and mares songs like The Way The News Goes… and Flatline. Luckily, the times Sotelo lands the vocals easily outnumber the times he doesn’t. About the only time attention is drawn to Adam ‘Nolly’ Getgood’s bass work is the intro to Absolomb, which demonstrates how well he sticks in the pocket of the music on the other tracks. Getgood’s riff is taken up the guitars, and is twisted with a tension building, discordant melody while the song shifts in one of the album’s best progressive pieces.
Matt Halpern’s drums perfectly compliment the spacious closing track, Lune, which is the albums other standout track. There is nothing pyrotechnic or incendiary about Lune, but it does satisfyingly smoulder as it smoothly progresses from one movement to the next. And this illustrates the weakness that underlies much of Select Difficulty; many of the songs are rhapsodic in their progression, leaping and bounding in style and tone across a single song. Absolomb and Lune confirm the adage of less being more, and while one must recognise the technical skills displayed on the more maximalist tracks, the sonic whiplash doesn’t make for easy listening or especially compelling songs.