Released: 2015, Sumerian Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
D.C. prog metal/djent tacticians Periphery go the Guns N' Roses Use Your Illusion route by offering their third and fourth albums, the two-part Juggernaut saga, as individual releases, issued on the same day, instead of one double album – this despite the band saying it is their intention for people to listen to them consecutively. Wouldn't that make a double album the more logical choice, then? Just saying.
And as was with the case of Use Your Illusions I and II way back in 1991, Juggernauts Alpha and Omega ultimately end up coming off as overwrought and underwhelming when taken as one massive whole. Granted, the Juggernauts are nowhere near as massive, and certainly far less overwrought, than the Use Your Illusions – which make for the most convenient comparison, even though System Of A Down’s Mesmerize/Hypnotize double feature, which were released six months apart, might be more apt – but a tidier package certainly would not have been a bad idea in all cases.
What hamstrings the Juggernauts is not what you might necessarily expect, given a band with the instrumental prowess of Periphery and the reverence they enjoy among music nerds and technofiles. The material here could hardly be described as masturbatory or indulgent from a performance point of view – indeed the Juggernauts feature some of the band's most listener-friendly songs, and in surprising abundance. If anything, the Juggernauts could have used some more pizazz and showiness along the lines of the “MK Ultra's” screechy guitar freak outs or “Omega's” progressive bulk and dog-chasing-its-tail loopiness.
Instead, it’s the relative ordinariness of much of the material that makes the Juggernauts something of a tedious journey, which perhaps would have been more viscerally satisfying had there been fewer stops to explore melodic inclinations and greater emphasis on the prog/djent bombast that put Periphery on the map in the first place. The Juggernauts are more a hard rock affair than anything else, with Spencer Sotelo's soaring, occasionally emo-sounding clean singing commanding the big choruses and catchy, sweeping verses that are so prevalent here.
The bowel-loosening shudder and mathematical adeptness of Periphery's triple guitar assault – Misha Monsoor, Jake Bowen and Mark Holcomb – play a definite second fiddle, especially on the first disc, Juggernaut: Alpha, where it is relegated to fits and starts or brief instrumentals like the crushing “Four Lights,” which inexplicably goes against the band's inherent strength. Thus the Juggernauts tend to meander and plod instead of dodge, weave, race and rampage.
Juggernaut: Omega does deliver more in the way of heft and the sense of adventure or wackiness that are Periphery's forte – with “The Bad Thing” signaling its intension straight away with its Brontosaurian riffs - but it takes a good 40-some minutes to get there, which can test the patience of even the most ardent listener. And even then, it's not like the band flip a switch into Meshuggah mode. There is still ample melody and lots of agreeable song structuring - for example “Priestess” and its almost jazz-pop chill, which is sandwiched between “Bad Thing” and the thundering tandem of “Graveless” and “Hell Below,” arguably the heaviest, meanest tracks on either album – over the second half.
And there's not really wrong with that approach. It's just that the band could have mixed and matched things more efficiently, and to greater affect, with, say, 10 or 11 songs over 50 minutes, instead of 17 tracks over 80 minutes. By padding things out as Periphery have, and splitting Juggernaut into two chunks, the dynamic and narrative threads get stretched thin and sitting through the entire opus becomes more of a chore than a joy, despite Omega's strong finish.