The latest offering from Bethesda progressive-metal outfit Periphery is technically two albums—Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega. Alpha and Omega were released by Sumerian Records on the same day and share a name, but according to the band, that does not make a double album. Still, the Juggernauts are meant to be played back-to-back, and they’re thematically linked through a vague narrative concerning flesh, blood, and some other cosmic stuff frontman Spencer Sotelo growls and croons about across 17 tracks in 80ish minutes.
Releasing two Juggernauts at once seems like a way to skirt packing too much into one album while still making a grand statement; Periphery gets to have its massive cake and eat it too (or two), at least in theory. Creating more pieces doesn’t necessarily mean better work, and Peter Jackson’s diminished post-Hobbit reputation is only the latest warning as such for artists of all media. But 10 years into its career, Periphery has as solid a handle on pulling off epic gestures as guitarist and founding member Misha Mansoor is at lighting up hyperfast, wizard-like riffs—both with mixed results.
Mansoor’s virtuosity straddles the line between urgent and excessive, and at times, he obliterates that divide with a lengthy, superfluous move. Technical ability is a boon for musicians taken by the complexities of prog-rock, but it’s also responsible for some grotesque recordings that overemphasize flashy, unemotional musical theatrics. Mansoor’s got the skills, and his reputation precedes him: His Wikipedia page has more information on the gear and tunings he uses than insight into his creative impulses.
So, unsurprisingly, Alpha and Omega hit their respective nadirs when Mansoor is in guitar-hero mode. Alpha’s “Rainbow Gravity” features one particularly droll, off-course guitar solo that’s mercifully reigned in by the song’s four-and-a-half-minute runtime. The going only gets good when Mansoor plugs into the rest of the group’s wild, shape-shifting passages, ceding his lead role to the tide of each track.
Periphery’s sound is progressive beyond that label’s definition, which clings to technical prowess; the group is forward-thinking in its approach to blending and repackaging disparate genres. Starlit orchestral post-rock opens Alpha, and before the post-emo balladry of Omega’s closing track, “Stranger Things,” Periphery smuggles in acoustic-rock, jazz, and an instrumental movement resembling chiptune. These experiments don’t always work out, but they’re usually more interesting than another wacky seven-string attack.
“The Scourge,” Alpha’s track five, is the highlight of both albums. With filmy strings, a barrage of double-kick drumming, and an army of voices rising up to sing “I will survive” as Mansoor riffs away in the background, it’s positively operatic. “The Scourge” also gives Sotelo plenty of room to show off his impressive vocal range—he sings with a treacly whine too-often abused by aughties emo bands, but on “The Scourge,” Sotelo really belts it out with the pop-centric precision of a boy-band member. Periphery has occupied a pretty position on Billboard before, and “The Scourge” contains the stuff that can push the band’s outsized prog-metal further up the charts.
Periphery plays the Fillmore Silver Spring on Feb. 13.
Photo by Jonathan Thorpe