As much as the tech-metal horse has been beaten to a bloody pulp at this point, Periphery will always be one of the acts that are more than worth the time to pay attention to. Unlike so many of their peers, the progression that should be an intrinsic factor in the genre (and one of the most important, at that) has often stayed front and centre right up to even their most recent work; the fact that 2015’s Juggernaut was split into two individual albums is enough to justify that, and while 2016’s Periphery III: Select Difficulty was a more conventional release by those standards, the diversity and virtuosic performances more than made up for it. But almost as an attempt to double down after that bout of relatively simplicity comes Periphery IV: HAIL STAN, the sort of tongue-in-cheek title that feels very on-brand containing their longest track to date, an appearance from SikTh’s Mikee Goodman and the return of the orchestration and choirs that have often only bumped up Periphery’s sense of grandeur. So on paper, everything seems to be running as smoothly as ever, and given this band’s track record, there’s no reason that HAIL STAN’s finished product shouldn’t meet those expectations.

And indeed, when the opening salvo of this album is the aforementioned opus Reptile, coming close to seventeen minutes with multiple swerves including one to fit in Goodman’s spoken word interlude, it’s clear that Periphery are coming into this one all guns blazing and then some. That on its own is nothing new, but given that Periphery have so regularly set themselves as one of, if not the shining light of modern tech-metal thanks to a borderline foolproof combination of experimentation and accessibility, it’s always going to be interesting to see which way they’re willing to lean. And on HAIL STAN, they pretty much split the difference between the two in a way that just shows how far ahead of their peers they really are, as few bands have made tech-metal sound this galvanised in a long time, maybe even since the last Periphery album.

It’s a credit to the band’s talent and general fluidity that they’re able to manage this, too. Throughout, there are numerous detours taken in both the instrumental and lyrical fields, but nothing ever sounds forced or unconvincing, simply because Periphery have a knack for melding both of their halves so much more strongly and concisely than virtually anyone else. Just take Reptile again, a track that could have easily been an overreaching mess, but finds a way to mix its grandiose size with clinical tech-metal riffs and a keen ear for melody taken straight out of modern metalcore for a final product that might lose a bit of steam towards the end, but considering the sheer volume of what it achieves, that is negligible. It’s perhaps the most blatant example of Periphery’s blend (and honestly, this album could’ve gone to world-beating status if they’d built on it just a bit more), but for whatever the band try, they rarely land on a dud. Blood Eagle and Sentient Glow capture the surgical intricacies and ravaging vitriol of The Dillinger Escape Plan in their angularity and viciousness, while It’s Only Smiles and Crush really couldn’t be further from that, bringing forth sweeping metalcore bombast and an elegant use of programmed elements to show that Periphery can really bring some excellent pure melody when they want.

And that proves to be Periphery’s trump card over the course of this album. As much as tech-metal often excels at cutting avalanches of riffs and nothing else, Periphery actually treat their take on it as if they’re making music rather than operating machinery, and thus the fluidity on HAIL STAN really does hit some fantastic high points. It helps that Spencer Sotelo is as expressive as a vocalist as he is with clear parallels in tone and timbre to multiple frontmen in metalcore today, and paired with a breadth of instrumentation that’s much wider and finds natural ways to stitch each element together, HAIL STAN arguably feels like tech-metal’s more satisfying next step. Even then, tech-metal as a blanket statement feels unfairly reductive, especially when mathcore drumming merges with what almost comes to a hip-hop swagger on CHVRCH BVRNER, or Crush feels like a contemporary spin on industrial rock with its creaking synths and tight synthetic beat. This is bolder and more brazen than most tech-metal even dares to attempt, and the fact that Periphery are chalking up strings of success from them on just one album only highlights how far forward they are.

But at the end of the day, that’s just reinforcing a fact that’s been in the open for years now. Periphery continue to push the boat out in a genre that feels so narrow and restricted nowadays, and with albums like HAIL STAN achieving as much as they do, it’s a testament to how captivating progressive music can actually be. This is an album that really does swing for the fences whenever possible, smashing any barriers in its way to deliver the creative, exhilarating music that’s long been the norm for this band, and looks to be continuing in that exact vein. In other words, it’s a Periphery album, and it’s a pretty great one at that.

8/10

For fans of: TesseracT, Between The Buried And Me, SikTh
Words by Luke Nuttall

‘Periphery IV: HAIL STAN’ is released on 5th April on 3DOT Recordings.

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