“Juggernaut: Alpha” and “Juggernaut: Omega” Review

periphery_juggernauts_01_dba37f87cfPeriphery has been a force to be reckoned with since their debut album in 2010. That self-titled album quickly became somewhat of an instant classic among the then-fledgling djent scene; it set itself apart from the seven-stringed crowd by infusing the low tunings of djent with a prog metal sensibility reminiscent of bands like Animals As Leaders. The sextet from a state solidified their position as the face of djent with their second album, which, like most sophomore albums, took the sound of their debut, refined it, and added another layer of polish. Now, after nearly three years, Periphery has revealed not simply a new album, but a double album (though the combined length of the two only slightly eclipses the length of either of their previous efforts). Entitled Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega respectively, these albums assert what the their first two albums had introduced to us: that Periphery is a solid band, here to stay.

Juggernaut: Alpha starts slower and more gradually than previous albums, initially leading me to believe that the band’s sound had become softer, but the comparatively gentler tone of the first track is suddenly and violently uprooted by MK Ultra – an initially blistering and heavy track which rivals any previous Periphery work in sheer heaviness, but curiously ends with a jazz fusion-esque outro before leading into the following track. While the transition may seem jarring when described, it is expertly pulled off. It took a second listen of the albums for me to even realize how drastic a change had occurred in this track. Moments like this are peppered throughout the album, showing that Periphery has widened their horizons. They now range from moments even heavier than their typical djent sound to those inspired by jazz and lighter rock.

In fact, these lighter moments are one of the most noticeable evolutions to anyone who has listened to the preceding albums. Those who bashed the Clear EP for its willingness to experiment will likely be equally dissatisfied with Juggernaut: Alpha. Plenty of songs here are simply not djent – and that’s okay. Juggernaut moves noticeably away from the tropes of djent which as of late have become more and more predictable. Open-string chugs are still present, but used more tastefully, resulting in a precise punch when they appear. Moments exist in which it doesn’t entirely “work,” but they are few and far between. Periphery’s willingness to move outside of their comfort zone more than makes up for the few moments in which ideas are imperfectly executed.

Juggernaut: Omega is the yang to Alpha’s yin. While Alpha is more focused on melody and songwriting, raw energy is at the core of Omega. It strikes a better balance between vocal and instrumental lines than most of Alpha, giving each their due time to shine and create a more coherent sound overall. Pleasingly, the high points are the final two tracks (Omega and Stranger Things), both of which showcase the best of the sound of this album. They weave effortlessly between tight, heavy sections and soaring melodic lines, closing out the album on a high note.

Spencer’s vocals are on the front burner for nearly the whole of Juggernaut, more so on Alpha. While not the change I expected, it was a welcome one, as his vocals have always been fantastic, and have improved on this album in nearly every way. When singing, his range seems to have grown even larger than before – a feat I would have expected to be impossible. The tone of his singing changes with the tone of the music as well; he employs a nasal sound similar to that of a punk vocalist in lighter songs, and simply sings “heavier” on heavier songs. Even more impressive is the way in which his screams have rounded out over time. Since Periphery’s debut, his screams have grown from monotone to a well-controlled scream that ranges from shrill high screams to all but the lowest growls. I would go so far as to say that Spencer Sotelo is simply the most versatile vocalist in metal today, and certainly one of the most talented.

Guitar, bass and drum work is just as quality as one should expect from a band with Periphery’s track record. Quick, tight riffs and drum beats are often just the backing for the vocals, yet it’s easy to see that Juggernaut could even stand on the merits of its instrumentation. However, vocals often complement the slower and more repetitive instrumental sections, and vice versa. Periphery is no longer guitarist Misha Mansoor’s baby, it’s a cohesive group that apparently works best together. The way the albums are structured, vocals and instruments weave in and out of each other harmonically and tonally in a way that the band has rarely been able to achieve before. On-point production helps achieve this, as every instrument is easily discerned on its own and isn’t ever lost into a muddy mix. Periphery has always produced their own music, and has improved that skill massively here.

Lyrics are still unclear in the typical secular metal fashion, but seem more open to interpretation. There’s a definite theme of despair and redemption occurring, as Spencer sings first on 22 Faces: “Staring at the hourglass / My life, it feels like a machine running with no direction / I’m dying to see what it is that is eating away at me / Why can’t I feel the burn?” Yet from Stranger Things, we hear “Take submission from a man in control / A token for my sacrifice / Let it pour out and show what has healed / One can finally find what’s left inside this masochistic personality / In a holy bond we live.” Again, the actual message is unclear, but can be interpreted a number of ways. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, the lyrics are definitely some of the best that Periphery has ever written, yet seem to offer even less of a didactic point than before.

Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega are fantastic albums, and if you have any inclination to enjoy metal, you should listen to them together as soon as you can. More could be said about them (the atmospheric tone, the drum experimentation, the fusion influences), but suffice it to say that they are in almost every way the most artistic and beautiful output from Periphery. I will be eagerly anticipating new releases, in the hopes that they maintain a long and fruitful career.

Listen to Periphery on Spotify

Purchase on Amazon (Alpha, Omega)

Purchase on iTunes (Alpha, Omega)

Into The Arcade – “Wreck-It Ralph” Review

ImageWhen I started seeing trailers and movie posters for Disney’s newest animated family film, Wreck-It Ralph, my expectations were not too high. I wasn’t expecting the film to be much more than a money grab for the parents of video game-addicted children. When my family rented it for movie night, I was admittedly even less excited. (I secretly thought we should have rented The Dark Knight Rises, though that probably wouldn’t have been for family movie night.) However, when we popped in the disc and started the movie, I quickly was sucked into the universe of the arcade.

The premise of the movie is that Ralph is the beefy-handed “bad guy” of the popular arcade game, “Fix-It Felix Jr.” He’s unhappy with his life because while Felix and the denizens of Niceville reside in the skyscraper where the game takes place, he lives alone in the nearby dump. Shortly into the film, he becomes enamored with the idea of getting a medal, convinced that he’ll be accepted. He eventually ends up in the kart racer, Sugar Rush, where he meets Vannelope Von Schweetz, a young girl who wants to become a racer in her game.I can’t say much more without spoiling much of the plot, which is rather complicated for a family film.

The premise of the movie actually turns out to be very good. Anyone who has played a few video games before will be grinning when the arcade closes and the characters start coming to life. The way in which the transition from real world to game world happens is very clever, and the transition from pixelated characters to three-dimensional ones is equally so. Inclusion of both old school and new school characters is also very cool.

The two best things Wreck-It… has going for it are its plot and its high level of cleverness. The plot, as said above, is pretty complex for a Disney film, but flows well and isn’t hard to follow at all. Anyone who is prone to crying may want to keep a few tissues nearby, because if you connect with the characters well, there will be a few tear-jerking scenes. There are multiple twists in the plot near the end, which are for the most part completely unexpected and turn your assumptions about some of the characters on their head. There are a few minor plot holes (which I’ll refrain from saying), but they don’t ruin the film and are easy to overlook.

The best thing about this film, though, is its sheer wit. Most of the jokes in the film are actually worth laughing at, which is more than could be said for most children’s films today. The way characters move and interact with each other correspond to how their games work, some of which are hilarious simply to watch. (Most of) the characters also work together well, and are pretty likeable. Fix-It Felix is actually incredibly funny because of just how good of a “good guy” he is.

You don’t even have to like video games to enjoy the movie, because despite the numerous game references and cameos, the plot isn’t centered around them and is therefore easy to follow even for those who know little to nothing about video games. Even my mother, who has never liked video games, enjoyed the film and laughed with the rest of us.

However, Wreck-It Ralph isn’t without its flaws. While it’s not terribly prominent, there is some unneeded potty humor in places. While most jokes are tasteful, these seem completely unnecessary. (However, the inevitable comparison between the words “duty” and “doody” admittedly made me giggle just because of how it was presented.) While the film is essentially free of any language, there are also some poorly veiled references to cuss words (“move your molasses,” etc.).

What’s really unfortunate is that the biggest flaw in the film is one of its main characters. Vanellope, the girl in Sugar Rush who wants to be a racer, is simply unlikable. Her backstory is actually interesting, and the dilemmas she faces are as well, but her personality can best be described as “really annoying.” Her voice is unpleasant and raspy, and she seems to remain hyper and insulting the entire film. Much of what comes out of her mouth is a taunt of some sort, and these taunts make up most of the potty humor in the film. She’s a main character, so the viewer is treated to her raspy insults throughout much of the film.

Wreck-It-Ralph-Game

Overall Opinion:

While having some flaws,Wreck-It Ralph is definitely a good movie. While it’ll never live up to the greats such as Toy Story or Finding Nemo, it’s definitely worth renting and enjoying with the family. I wouldn’t recommend purchasing it unless you really enjoy it, but I would definitely endorse seeing it.

7.5 out of 10 stars. sure you’ll enjoy it.

Identity Crisis – “Release The Panic” Review

Release The PanicOver the years, Red has floated in and out of that zone of Christian bands who are too hard to be called just rock, but aren’t really hard enough to be hard rock. Their debut, End Of Silencewas a gem, but their subsequent releases became increasingly generic. Before releasing their latest, Red promised a change in style, but whether they followed through is a topic of debate.

Musically, Release The Panic is fairly sub-par for the band. The singing is hasn’t changed much since the band’s inception, but goodness gracious, Michael Barnes’s screams have become awful! Rather than a unique, raw fry scream like End of Silence, or even his decent false chord scream from the previous two albums, it has been replaced with a lackluster yell / growl, which does NOT compliment his voice at all. His voice when singing is near perfect, which actually annoys me. I enjoy hearing the raw emotion of a singer’s voice, and it’s lost when there’s pitch correction, or when the singer sings different parts then edits them together, which seems to be the case here. I am a firm believer that the band should play the song through from start to finish when recording, rather than piecing it together.

But I digress.

The guitars and drumming, in general, have really not changed at all, which is frustrating considering the amount of change the fans (myself included) were hoping for. The differences that the band was referring to are not as apparent as they made it seem. The guitars sound grungier, but that’s about the extent of the change. The really strange thing is how split the album feels. There are heavy songs that are arguably heavier than anything Red has done before, yet the lighter songs sound like they’re made for K-Love. While some of these songs are good on their own, placing them all in the same album makes for a very strange listening experience. Unfortunately, Red has chosen to follow the stereotypical Christian rock formula for most of the songs, which consists of a sung chorus, screamed pre-chorus, and a screamed / sung chorus. While there are a few standout tracks, the music doesn’t stand up to any of Red’s previous records.

Lyrically, the songs are very generic. They cover most of the usual topics of Christian rock: Man is fallen, man needs help, man receives help. What’s worse is that there are very few references to God, blatant or vague. Not a great effort.

Best Tracks:

Despite the new screams, “Release The Panic” is still pretty good, especially the chorus.

While it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the album AT ALL, “Die For You” is a pretty good song on its own.

“Hold Me Now” unfortunately is yet another ‘cry of desperation’ track, but is musically the best track on the album.

Weakest Tracks:

It’s hard to pick a weakest song from this album – not because they’re all good, but because most of them are mediocre.

However, I don’t like “Same Disease.” In addition to yet another song about brokenness, the song comes off as annoying.

Both of the remixes on the deluxe version are mediocre, and obvious attempts to cash in on the dubstep fad. (There’s a definite difference between the legitimate dubstep genre and the fad that it has become.)

Overall Opinion:

While I respect Red for trying to branch out, this album was probably their worst. I don’t think anyone would mind if they returned to their unique, post-grunge sound and refined it rather than changing heir sound dramatically. I doubt any of the musicians in this band were challenged at all during the recording of this album, which is what an artist should always stride for. Unless you’re a diehard Red fan, I’d recommend downloading the first three tracks and ignoring the rest. The best thing to come from this album? A re-release of “Breathe Into Me (Remix Acustica),” which was originally only found on the rare deluxe version of End Of Silence.

5 out of 10 stars.

High Expectations – “Vital” Review

anberlin_vital Anberlin has always been a good band, but when they created the album Cities, they became something brilliant. Their unique blend of alt-rock, synths and Stephen Christian’s unique vocals came together perfectly to make a positively amazing album. Then…there was New Surrender. It was still a decent album, but there was something missing. It was like the raw emotion of Cities wasn’t there anymore.

The explanation for this is that Aaron Sprinkle, the producer of Cities, did not produce New Surrender or the following album. When news broke last year that Anberlin was bringing him back as a producer, expectations were set high. REALLY high. As in, “could-this-album-ever-be-better-or-even-as-good-as-Cities?” high.

The answer is no. However, Vital comes pretty close.

When I put the CD in and was greeted with “Self-Starter,” I had mixed feelings, but I needed to remind myself that this album wasn’t Cities, it was Vital. The first thing I noticed was that Stephen Christian’s vocals have changed significantly. They’re still instantly recognizable, but some of his unique tone and pronunciation has been lost. This is not necessarily a bad thing – I know quite a few people who don’t like Anberlin because “the singer sounds weird.” (Their words, certainly not mine.) While I may not love the change in vocal style, it may not even be something that could be changed. Some singers sound very different later in their career than they did in the beginning.

In general, though, the album is very good musically. For the most part, Anberlin seems to have refined their unique, heavy alt-rock style rather than deviating from it. There are a few tracks that aren’t standard fare (“Other Side,” “Innocent”), but they work well in the flow of the album. My only disappointments: There’s a lack of synths throughout the album except for one or two synth-heavy songs, and a couple that include them, And the vocals are frequently put through a filter, which is not only annoying, but when used poorly, can destroy an album. It thankfully doesn’t here, but it does bother me.

Lyrics, though, are where Vital is weaker. Anberlin has never been terribly up-front with their Christianity, but Cities made references to it (including some very good ones in their masterpiece of a closer, “(*Fin)” ). However, Vital is not strong in this area. I have trouble finding much meaning in most of the songs. (This is why I wish that every CD and every MP3 download had a booklet explaining the meanings behind every song). There are still a couple of references to God, but not many. Some lyrics sometimes seem to (almost) go against what the band believes, like:

“Don’t we all want to be loved,
Don’t we all write our own songs,
Don’t we all learn right from wrong…” (“Modern Age”)

If Anberlin is a Christian band, it seems they would have chosen to end the song (or change it) with the idea that God is the writer of our lives, and something to reconcile the line about right and wrong. Ironically, the best lyrics come from “God, Drugs and Sex,” the song with the title that probably steered many people away from this album. However, it’s a great song. The lyrics are about how a relationship between a Christian and a non-Christian is destined not to work, and how God, drugs and sex just don’t mix.

Best Tracks:

“God, Drugs and Sex” is the best song on the album, easily. Featuring great vocals without noticable filters, a softer side of the instruments, and great lyrics, this is not a song to be missed.

“Someone Anyone” is like the “Hello Alone” of Vital – the similarities are instantly apparent. However, it’s a unique, synth-heavy rocker that I really enjoy.

“Self-Starter” (which happens to be the opening track), is another great rock track, though lacking in synths, but I hope Anberlin makes more songs like this.

I really love the music of “Modern Age;” it’s definitely the best on the album, but it does have the aforementioned lyrics problem, which kind of reduces my enjoyment of it. However, the music still (mostly) redeems this track. Because it’s really, really good music.

Weakest Tracks:

“Innocent” is okay lyrically, and okay musically. In fact, that’s the best word to describe this track: “okay.” It’s too synth / filter heavy for my tastes.

Weird, abrupt section changes, uninteresting lyrics, and unnecessary gang vocals make up “Desires.” This would have been better as a B-side track

vitall

Overall Opinion:

Going into Vital, you simply cannot expect every aspect of Cities repeated over again (which I made the mistake of doing the first time I listened to it). While it definitely doesn’t surpass Cities on my list, it’s an easy #2 for the band, and it grew on me the more I listened to it. Despite its imperfections, this is still a great album and an easy recommendation for any fan of Anberlin or good rock music.

8.5 out of 10 stars.

New Page: Faves

I’ve updated the blog with a new page: Faves! This is where I’ll post content (music, movies, books, and possibly other stuff) that I really enjoy and recommend. Right now it only includes music, but with my collection, choosing my favorites was a pretty large task. 😛 I hope you enjoy it, and can find something you like!

Work In Progress

If you see some strange things happening on this blog, such as:

Strange colors
New themes
Links to nowhere

…then just know that this blog is still a work in progress, and the pages and theme are not set in stone. I’m still trying to find one that looks nice but has a functional sidebar.

Just thought you should know. 🙂