There is a ton of hype around the Periphery “Djent Is Not A Genre” album, and the singles that have been released have just amplified that hype. We got to listen to it, and the boys have definitely not disappointed with their latest album. Let’s talk about it…
Djent Is Not A Genre: Level Up!
Periphery has been around long enough that any novelty that the band originally possessed, is long gone. I scroll through my Spotify all the time, and so many bands have “borrowed” from Periphery over the last decade. Actually, a lot of modern Metal has done a little bit more than “borrow” from Periphery. Some songs are almost plagiarism at this point.
If you have somehow never heard Periphery, and you enjoy progressive metal, I think you should probably stop what you are doing and go listen to ANY of their albums. Now, back to me sounding like a Metal elitist.
But that has not stopped the band in any way, and I think that it has actually pushed the members to stay ahead of the copycat bands. Every Periphery album has taken different twists and turns trying to escape the labels that the Metal community has tried to throw at the band. Truly great artists never fit perfectly into a genre, however.
Saying that Djent is not a genre is pretty bold statement, since so many bands proudly proclaim themselves as “Djent”. It has been a meme now for years, and the onomatopoeia description of a guitar tone is pretty stale. The real nomenclature for the genre should lean closer towards “Progressive Metal”. But that is rarely how trends work, and once a word sticks in our culture, it is annoyingly there for a while.
While Periphery have definitely risen above their peers, it has seriously taken a toll on the Periphery. Tension has always been high, especially if you watch the documentary content for the band. Misha Mansoor has said more than once that the band has almost broken up.
That may sound scary, but we got to hear the band’s perspective on the subject. It was a perfect storm of bad luck, busy schedules, and pushing themselves to the absolute limit. So how did Periphery pull it all off and deliver a record?
The Making Of Periphery V: Djent Is Not A Genre
“Rome wasn’t built in a day, the world has never been less predictable, and “djent” is not a genre”.
When it comes to “Djent Is Not A Genre” the band is yet again near their breaking point. This comes from a lot of factors, one of them being that members are spread across the country. On top of everyone living so far apart from one another, each member also has their own projects outside of Periphery.
Misha for example, has Horizon Devices and GetGood Drums as business ventures with Nolly. Jake and Spencer both have musical side projects unrelated to Periphery and endorsement deals. Mark has a very successful signature guitar with PRS Guitars. With all of these different opportunities, there are promotions, interviews, guitar clinics, and video content.
That makes your calendar fill up rather quickly. Everyone in the band is very busy, and finding the time to write and produce music can be tough. Hell, just being in a band is tough enough as it is in the modern market. Touring barely makes any money for bands, and sometimes touring is a loss.
Periphery’s previous album, the critically acclaimed “Hail Stan” took almost a year to record and complete. The guys all fly in to meet each other, something they call “retreats”. During these retreats (usually at Misha’s home), they all share riff ideas and write music. Then everyone takes a break, deals with their separate projects, and comes back to “retreat” again. Then the songs start to come together naturally, but… this takes time.
I have been in the music business for a long time, and this has to be one of the hardest ways to make an album as a band. Every member being “scattered” across different cities and separate ventures is not ideal. So the writing/recording process is already stressful with Periphery. When they started production for “Djent Is Not A Genre” the usual plan was in order. Periphery got started on the album, and ideas were brewing the way they usually do for the band.
And Then? The Pandemic Hit.
The Sessions for “Djent Is Not A Genre” began in late 2020, at the height of the pandemic scare. This was extremely problematic for everyone in the industry. Traveling rules were very restricted, and the usual “retreat” idea was much more strained for the members. Misha Mansoor, along with the rest of the band were not feeling very optimistic…
“There were times where I didn’t know how this album would ever come out. I didn’t know how I’d ever feel good about the album, and I’d rather just quit the band than put out an album that I don’t feel great about”
Misha isn’t the only member of the band that felt this way about the album. The usual recording process was fraught with Covid restrictions that made the usual meet-ups and retreats much more difficult for everyone. Mark Holcomb spoke about just how hard it was to make an album during the days of Covid…
“We would do week-and-a-half writing retreats and then take two months away from the material before revisiting it together. We really played by the rules with respect to Covid safety and travel and because of that, we had an almost impractical amount of time to analyze the material between sessions.
Our standards are higher than ever, so we all pushed ourselves on this album much harder than we ever have before. It was a hard process because we had to keep ourselves honest to those standards.”
“Djent Is Not A Genre” is the culmination of years of experience for the band, as they are still finding new ways to surprise us. But it didn’t come easy this time, and scheduling became a nightmare. Periphery had this high standard that they wanted to meet, and having weeks in between writing sessions didn’t make realizing these new ideas any easier. It would be easy to get lazy.
The scariest thing that can happen to a band, is that they make an album that sounds just like their last album, without any innovation. It can be very hard to constantly push boundaries, and not repeat yourself. A band like Periphery is constantly moving the goalposts of what you can do with the Metal genre. Innovation and inspiration cannot be forced, the listeners will know if it sounds forced.
Everyone in Periphery are not only trying to up the stakes of the band performance on “Djent Is Not A Genre”. They are also trying to push themselves as individual artists. Creativity is a limited resource, and even the most talented musicians have “off” days. Add all of that pressure on top of the pandemic, and you have a bad time ahead of you, as Misha Mansoor describes:
“We ended up in a very difficult place where we had to ask if we were retreading ground. I always say it’s very simple to make a Periphery record – the only thing we need it to do is excite us. That hasn’t changed, but it’s gotten harder and harder for us to make music that passes muster because we’re ultimately doing it for ourselves.
At this point, there’s no reason to make Periphery records other than to make music that we’re proud of, and the stakes are higher because we’ve all grown as writers and players. Material that we would’ve thought was great in the past isn’t cutting it anymore.”
Every musician ultimately wants to make music that excites themselves as much as the audience. So the stakes were incredibly high when it comes to making “Djent Is Not A Genre”. Everyone in the band has personally changed over the years, and at the end of the day, the band is five individuals with very different approaches to music.
I am always excited when a new Periphery album comes out, and “Djent Is Not A Genre” is no exception. Calling this the most exciting thing that I have heard from the band sounds so… cliché. But just like the previous album, they have switched the sonic landscape up on us yet again. But this may be the “definitive” Periphery album, as it showcases a more mature band that has perfected their craft.
So let’s dive into the tracks that really stuck out to me, which is really… all of them. Periphery have explored almost every genre on “Djent Is Not A Genre” and I don’t think I have ever heard such a diverse album from any band. I think this might end up being a polarizing experience for some fans, however. You’re either going to love what they have done, or hate it. Like all great art.
Djent Is Not A Genre: Track By Track
So far, Periphery has shown us just how far they are willing to go to change up their sound. The previous album featured sweeping orchestral arrangements, darker songs, as well as a moody synth-wave ballad. Interwoven in all of that was the trademark guitar riffs that bounce around odd time signatures. We get more on this album, yet it is so much more refined.
This album is epic in both sound and size, since the shortest song is just over five minutes long. But the “epic” part comes from the many orchestral breaks, choir parts, tribal drums, and synthesizer programming. These are all elements that Periphery have used before, but it sounds like they have finally mastered this art of theirs.
The orchestra, choir, and electronica parts are no longer… supplemental. I always thought they felt “tacked on” with previous albums. Here, these elements sound like a part of the band. The result is the best sounding Periphery album I have heard so far, and I have been a fan for quite a while (before Spencer joined). The production is next level, even for a band that has guided modern metal producers.
I think everyone has heard the first single released, “Wildfire”. This is the first track on the album and it really sets the tone for the rest of the album. The pounding, heavy 7 string guitars dance around Matt’s drums just as we would expect. Spencer Sotelo has never sounded better, and his vocal delivery is angry. The “hook” comes around a couple of times, Misha plays his self professed “Meshuggah rip-off solo” before the entire band just… stops.
This is where we get our first real surprise, with a Neo-Jazz style break, piano and all. The guest saxophone solo by Jørgen Munkeby (SHINING) lulls you into a calm and serene state… just so the band can come back with total chaos. Get used to this dynamic, because the entire album has this theme. “Wildfire” also references a previous album’s song, “The Event”, to those of you with discerning ears!
The second track “Atropos” somehow manages to weave heavy guitars into what could easily be a Pop song melody. Spencer has some beautiful three-part harmony parts, that could be right out of a Top 40 radio hit. That is, until we are hit with blast beats and trademark Periphery breakdown. The song ends with a multi-layered vocal chant, with stomping guitars leading into an orchestral segue.
Get used to the fantastic segues too, because they are all over the album. This is something that Periphery has done before, but never to this extent. The ebb and flow is incredibly effective, especially in a “singles-only oriented” music market. The album format is definitely still alive.
“Wax Wings” keeps the momentum of the album going forward, and Spencer’s vocals are the highlight of this song. The piano and orchestra elements work so well, sounding natural by this point. The melody is gorgeous, and the Icarus metaphor really comes through during the quiet section. The end of the song features a full choir, and one of the best vocal performances I have heard from Spencer.
The next track descends into total chaos, and “Everything Is Fine!” could easily fit into a Dillinger Escape Plan album. The heavy guitars switch between chugging and crazy Digitech Whammy effects. It sounds like a dissonant machine that is breaking down as the song careens off the rails. By the end, the machine falls apart completely with Spencer’s mantra of “F**k your sanctuary, F**k your haven”.
We barely get a moment to catch our breath before the synth-infused “Silhouette” kicks in. This mostly major-key song is like the sister song to “Crush” from “Hail Stan”. This gives us a great respite amidst the heavier, angrier first half of the album. I really love this side of Periphery, and the key changes towards the end show off Spencer’s vocal gymnastics in a sublime way.
“Silhouette” almost acts as an intro the next track, “Dying Star”. The heavy guitars are back, but the melody is sweet and infectious. Again, the synth and samples that are littered about the track really just sound like another member of the band at this point. “Dying Star” is almost a ballad in nature, which prepares us for the next track, that I can only describe as a “Metal Musical”.
Don’t take that the wrong way, “Zagreus” is certainly not comparable to “Westside Story”. The song takes some liberties with the instrumental theme and character name from the game “Hades”. But the structure and vocal delivery certainly reminds me of a musical number (take that however you want, Periphery). I actually love it, and the instrumental that ends the song is amazing. If you have played the game, you’ll recognize the references.
The last two tracks are nearly a half hour together, and “Dracul Gras” is classic Periphery in every way. The sound is relentlessly heavy, but the “Bow Low!” melody gives you just a bit of light before the song gets dark again. The song takes a more down-tempo turn with a melodic solo from Jake Bowen, only to change up again to a sparse chant that builds slowly into heavy controlled chaos. I won’t spoil the end for you, but… wow.
After the incredible ending of “Dracul Gras” we lead into the final track “Thanks Nobou”. While there is a lot of heaviness and darker themes throughout the album, “Djent Is Not A Genre” ends on a positive and almost hopeful note. The tone of the song is hard to describe, but it is definitely a light resolve to close the album.
“Nothing lasts forever, and thank God it doesn’t” is a sentiment that I think we are universally familiar with during the last few years. Spencer’s vocals on this last track really pull you in, and the albums ends with a wonderful theme montage of violins, choir, and electronic beats. What a great way to end this journey, as the last notes ring out it in an almost cinematic way.
Periphery V: Djent Is Not A Genre: (9.5/10)
I never give anything a perfect 10, but this album is really damn close. This is a band that is firing on all cylinders, using every resource available, and doing whatever they want musically. I hope Periphery is proud of this album, because they have made something really special.
Wrapping everything up is sort of difficult, because there is a lot to discover with this album. Periphery continues to set the precedent for what a band can do with genre-twisting, but this time they manage to also bend your perception. There is never a time on the album that you can predict what might be coming next. It is constantly exciting, waiting to hear what crazy thing they will do next.
Watching the evolution of the band, and seeing them reach such an apex is very rewarding. Misha said that he didn’t want to retread any old ideas, and they certainly haven’t. This album as a whole is a real experience, and I know I will be having several re-listens.
I think the biggest surprise is all of the added elements like the orchestra, choir and more sequencing/synths. While they felt a little forced on previous efforts, this time it all flows naturally in the mix. This album isn’t as dark or heavy as “Hail Stan” but the songwriting is on another level completely this time around.
“Djent Is Not A Genre” is an album that I will probably listen to a lot, because there are so many layers. The choir addition, and new electronic elements are sometimes so innocuous in the mix that I probably missed some of them. I will probably study this album the same way that I do with Devin Townsend’s records since it has that same “wall of sound” production.
Overall, Periphery has managed to make a near-perfect album. The elements that never worked for them are gone, and the newer sounds and ideas have finally found their place. From a production standpoint, this is also their best sounding album. Combine all of that with masterful songwriting and you get an album that is almost perfect.
Periphery have made an album that will have their peers taking notes. Progressive Metal as a whole has become so sterile and stale, with one band sounding identical to the next these days. Periphery has moved past that point, as I doubt anyone could even begin to replicate what the boys have done with this record.
“Djent Is Not A Genre” is exactly the album that I always knew Periphery could make, and each member’s influence is finally in the spotlight. Periphery might have started as “Misha’s band”, but it has transcended that and become five enmeshed entities. Djent might not be a genre, but Periphery has become a genre themselves.
Periphery V: “Djent Is Not A Genre” comes out on all major platforms on March 10th 2023. Pre-order your physical copies HERE.
Jake Bowen: Guitars, Synths, Programming
Matt Halpern: Drums
Mark Holcomb: Guitars
Misha Mansoor: Guitars, Synths, Orchestration
Spencer Sotelo: Vocals
Bass performed by Adam “Nolly” Getgood
Saxophone solo on “Wildfire” performed by Jørgen Munkeby
Mixed by Adam “Nolly” Getgood
Assistant mixer: Sebastian Sendon
Drum production by Adam “Nolly” Getgood
Drum and bass editing by Sebastian Sendon
Mastered by Mike Kalajian at Rogue Planet Mastering
Album art and layout by Travis Smith
All songs produced, written and composed by Periphery
Christoper HortonChristopher has been playing guitar, bass, and piano for 28 years. He has been active in the professional music industry for over two decades. Chris has toured for years with several bands and music projects across the United States. He worked in Los Angeles as a studio musician and engineer working with many genres, but mainly Pop, Rock, and Metal. In between giving private lessons, he is usually recording under his various projects. Christopher plays Schecter Guitars, BOSS Amplifiers, and uses STL Tones in the studio.
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