“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)


Wait…Indie Metal Is A Thing? – “Assemble Dismantle Repair” Review

Assemble Dismantle Repair

Not to be confused with “Amadeus.”

It’s no secret that I have an affinity towards indie bands. While there may be a lot of less-than-interesting music to weed through, once you have, you find a goldmine of artistry, unhindered by producers or record labels. Independent metal band AmeDeus  (loosely translated from Latin as “Love of God,” or possibly “God of Love) is a definite example of that unhindered artistry, as shown with their latest EP, Assemble Dismantle Repairwith which they have definitely proven themselves worthy of a record deal.

Musically, this sixteen-minute, three track ride doesn’t let up in the slightest. (The tracks are aptly titled “Assemble,” “Dismantle” and “Repair.”) It hits you with grungy guitars from the beginning of “Assemble,” yet complements with almost solely clean vocals for the first 80 seconds, reminiscent of the style of Wolves At The Gate. However, when the screams kick in at 1:20, there’s a sense of raw emotion in contrast to the amount of cleans. The screams are not amazing, though they’re very similar to Mike Hranica’s from The Devil Wears Prada. Still, they’re decent, and as a result of the sparse use, I find myself excited for the next scream section.

The instruments of this band really have it all together. The solos and chords are very technical (which, contrary to popular belief, does not necessarily mean that it sounds good), and it works very well with the vocals. In stark contrast to bands like August Burns Red, breakdowns are also used sparsely, but when they’re used, they’re really, really good. Deliciously good. As in, you may grow a beard as a result. (Okay, maybe not.) The band doesn’t seem to follow much of a familiar structure (such as verse / chorus), but there are repeated sections so that you’re not completely lost. There are dueling harmonies and guitar licks aplenty, not to mention many other techniques I can’t name, that all sound extremely good.

Lyrically, these guys have written a masterpiece. In three tracks, it seems they have hit on many, if not most of the major points of the Gospel, most of it done through direct paraphrase of Scripture. “Assemble” tells the story of man’s fall, taken from Genesis 1-3. “Dismantle” shows man’s rebellion after being removed from Eden, inspired by 1 Corinthians 1:18-19. “Repair” tells about God’s sacrifice, and later, about how Satan will be removed from power and every knee will bow, taken from Revelation 1: 17-18, among other places.

Most bands who quote scripture, either directly or indirectly, come off dreadfully forced and cheesy. However, AmeDeus has managed to condense more scripture into a three-track metal EP than most worship bands do in an album, and still sound poetic and artistic. The lyrical influence of Oh, Sleeper is plentiful, as every lyric is from the perspective of one of three actors in the story: “Man,” referring to men individually or collectively, depending on the context, “Creator,” the voice and thoughts of God, and “Deceiver,” the voice of the serpent / Satan. (The band has helpfully provided lyrics on their Bandcamp page, including notations for different perspectives.)

Overall Opinion:

AmeDeus is definitely a band worth a listen. With Assemble… they’ve pulled off their own unique spin on the metal / metalcore genre, arguably better than many bands in the mainstream industry, Christian or secular. With musical artistry and excellent, scripture-based lyrics, this EP is definitely worth your money.

9.5 out of 10 stars.

Listen to / purchase the album for $3.00 here!

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


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.