In the beginning, there was Periphery and Periphery was good. They were loud, they were obnoxious and they were untamed. Yet here we stand, a mere 10 years later, gripping a twin album release, safe in the knowledge that it is the stuff of legend. Not only is their third long-player their heaviest, darkest, densest and most mature work, it is also their most emotive, addictive and haunting. Put simply, this is the work that will define their career.
Juggernaut contains a story, one based in fact, that can take you on a journey to spots of tear-jerking beauty before ditching you in the foulest, most soul-destroying of places. The album’s concept has been well-hidden so far and I hate spoiling surprises, so all I’ll suggest is check the track-listing if you want a clue to the full insanity of the project within a project. What unsettles most of all about the themes is the intricate dealing with each slight change in mood of the story’s main character. The humanity and hope within comes across from within the most hopeless and inhumane of situations.
Taken at face value, Juggernaut concerns the slow and relentless onslaught of one man’s mental faculties. Taken as a metaphorical tale, it can be applied to a wide range of subjects including birth, re-birth and death itself. The difference between the Alpha disc and the Omega one, according to guitarist Misha Mansoor, is that the former is “more optimistic” whereas the latter is “pessimistic”. Essentially these are two parts of the same story, one single time-line, but our anti-hero’s experiences ultimately dictate the reason for the split. Running to 82 minutes, it’s an awful lot to be tackling so there is argument that this could have been pared down to a single album by stripping out the few weaker tracks. With so much essential material though, it’s a blessing that they decided to double-up.
Dealing with Alpha first, it’s immediately apparent that the production levels are off the chart. This has allowed for a complete tonal range to shine; from the heavy punch and bruising limbs to the crisp, clean and sharp edges. “A Black Minute” resonates with twinkling strings and psychedelic, echoing keys creating space for Spencer Sotelo’s clean vocals to portray a vision of soft innocence, wonder, hope and even joy. “MK Ultra” presents a far-different side, however, as dark palm-muted butchery and malevolent roars tear into the listener until overload occurs. This blackout is the point where a short, jazzy hit of lift-music is inserted to say more than any white noise, siren or other such sound effect could. Following the storyline, “The Event” is a huge moment. Cleverly, it’s an instrumental and contains nothing more than a tremulous underscore and a steady pattern of single string strikes. Deeper in, Periphery dig out big, infectious hitters with huge choruses. Tracks such as “Heavy Heart”, the poppy licks of “Alpha”, the hardcore-flecked “22 Faces” and the jerking “Rainbow Gravity” all soar. Sotelo’s often nasal delivery can be annoying at times, but because of his flat refusal to dwell for any length of time on one style they lock into the musical flow rather than get under your skin. Here, he dips into his bag of extreme from which he can pull out everything from a guttural moan to an ear-splitting scream and anything in between. Check out “The Scourge” or album highlight “Psychosphere” to experience the sheer glory of his full range. It’s simply a staggering performance delivered with true emotion.
Moving into Omega, following a gut-churning “Reprise” we get another important moment within the tale. “The Bad Thing” marks the point where any semblance of self-understanding, normality, reason and forgiveness dissolves. It is vicious in sonic impact, unrelenting and ripped with dark lyricism. Its companion track, the enigmatic, ambient post-rock of “Priestess”, looks at the same world but attacks it with eyes wide open offering a spirited sequence of layered arpeggios warmed through with a sweet, hooked chorus and effervescent electronic touches. From here we begin the descent in spirit to the anarchic “Graveless” and the monstrous Meshuggah-worship of “Hell Below”. The jazz-flecked closing section of “Omega” offers up one final look backwards before “Stranger Things” give us one of the album’s more experimental moments of enlightenment and reflection, providing a fitting ending on a crushing half.
The precise structuring, degree of detailing and thematic recycling of Juggernaut show just how much careful thought has gone into the long and arduous process that it has taken to finally bring this album to the table. Ultimately though, it’s the emotional pull of the narrative and the rich variety of the music that will decide on the album’s impact. It seems to me that no matter how many times I go through this material, experiencing some of the most radical, deeply depressing, sick and highly disturbing of musical journeys, I still feel like I’ve been put through the wringer anew each time. Both albums are streaming online now so there really is no excuse not to do the same. I urge you to invest in this because the deeper you venture down the rabbit hole, the deeper it becomes. At the point of total immersion you may, just like me, actually feel your heart break.
(9/10 John Skibeat)