For all the talk of “experimentation” surrounding Periphery’s latest effort, the band rests on their laurels for most of Clear’s 30-minute runtime. There’s still plenty of down-tuned chugging, intricate riffing, poppy choruses and slick production to be found here but all the recycled elements feel like a bit of a letdown considering the band’s rapid and impressive growth over the past few years.
While 2010’s Periphery put the Bethesda-based sextet on the map with a love-it-or-hate-it fusion of progressive, technical and nu metal stylings, it was on 2012’s Periphery II: This Time it’s Personal that their signature “djent” sound came into its own. The melodies were catchier, the breakdowns even heavier, the guitar playing outrageous, the risk-taking rather ballsy. The best Periphery II tracks — “Facepalm Mute” and “Froggin’ Bullfish” in particular—plunged headfirst into rhythmic and harmonic nirvana, very much unafraid of sounding too epic or cheesy. The band escaped their reputation as an awkward hybrid of Meshuggah and Linkin Park and head forth as innovators to watch.
Clear, then, is their first step backward. By restricting the songwriting duties to one per band member, Periphery dilute the full instrumental and vocal firepower at their disposal. The genre-bending sounds overly segmented; for instance, it’s all too obvious that the band’s oft-ignored bassist Nolly Getgood would contribute a groove-based technical metal instrumental with little purpose to its crushing riffage. (The song title “Extraneous” fits this one to a tee.) Similarly, guitarist and de facto band leader Misha Mansoor contributes a compilation of early Periphery tropes with “Zero”, a pretty instrumental that nevertheless fails to leave an impression. It sounds more like a demo for one of his gazillion new guitars than a meaningful composition.
Yet the experiment reveals some fascinating truths about the band’s strengths and weaknesses. For one, vocalist Spencer Sotero and drummer Matt Halpern come across as the MVPs here. Their songwriting unabashedly embraces the more controversial aspects of Periphery’s sound. Matt’s contribution, “Feed the Ground”, storms out of the gates with a snarling verse-chorus-breakdown structure that blends unapologetic catchiness and heavy riffs with beautiful melodicism. Just as the gut-churning title drop hits— “Burn everything and FEED THE FUCKING GROUND!!!” — the song transforms into a tribal march reminiscent of Slipknot. These defiantly unfashionable moments are what Periphery do better than anyone.
Spencer pushes the band furthest with “The Parade of Ashes”, a song that juggles dancey, four-on-the-floor hooks with some of the heaviest breakdowns Periphery’s ever churned out. Once again the end result is uncomfortably direct and sincere, two qualities oft avoided by the band’s peers in favor of mystique and posturing. It’s fun and impactful and dynamic, and it doesn’t resort to unnecessarily complex musical passages to impress us. On the other hand are “The Summer Jam” and “Pale Aura”, penned by guitarists Jake Bowen and Mark Holcomb. Both tracks have their fair share of impeccably rendered moments—especially the stunning screaming, singing and blast beat frenzy that closes “Pale Aura”—but the songs don’t quite gel as musical statements.
Clear is an acceptable, occasionally awe-inspiring EP for fans of Periphery, but it won’t convert any skeptics. Here’s hoping their forthcoming concept album Juggernaut will bring the sort of experimentation promised to us here.
Stream the album by clicking here.