A new year brings a lot of speculation about which young bands are most likely to make the next big step up the hazardous stairway to commercial glory. As standard-bearers for an increasingly populous tech-metal scene and undisputed pioneers of that polarising, post-Meshuggah and proudly polyrhythmic phenomenon known as djent, Periphery may not be the most obvious contenders for massive success, but their prominence and popularity are hard to deny.
The Americans spent much of 2014 beavering feverishly away in their own studios, preparing their third full-length studio album: a record that, common sense would seem to dictate, will either propel them to the next level or condemn them to eternal cult status. Most bands in this position might be inclined to keep things simple and focus on short, sharp songs designed to forge an immediate connection with an expectant audience.
But this is Misha Mansoor’s Periphery: a band with progressive ideals and an adventurous mindset, and so it will come as no surprise to keen observers that the new record is a mind-bendingly extravagant double-concept album, its respective parts titled Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega. Great news for fans of prog and futuristic metal derring-do, of course, but it’s difficult to imagine Periphery’s management or record label being particularly delighted with the prospect of peddling such a complex magnum opus to a mainstream metal audience…/o:p
“I don’t think they were happy that we were doing it!” laughs Misha. “Our management’s job is to make us money. They’re the business side of things; that’s what we like about them. We butt heads a lot, on a lot of things, because we’re all about the music. They understand that’s sacred so they try to work with us as much as possible because they want us to be successful, but at the same time we have creative control. That keeps us happy because we can write the kind of music we want. They can suggest stuff, but if we’re going to put out a double-concept prog album, that’s what they’re gonna put out and market to the best of their ability. The day we can’t do that, we’ve lost.”/o:p
In fairness to Periphery’s steadily expanding army of admirers, this band’s approach has been exploratory and against the mainstream metal grain from the very beginning, when Periphery was little more than just an idea in Misha’s head and a few solo experiments on a laptop. Nonetheless, the Juggernaut records amount to a bold move: this is intricate and demanding music that necessitates a sturdy attention span and, despite no shortage of incisive melody, offers little in the way of instant gratification.
At two hours in duration and boasting a mysterious narrative that their creators steadfastly refuse to explain (“…because we want to see what people make of it!” Misha grins), such ambitious albums could well alienate some of the band’s existing fans, let alone dissuade newcomers from taking the plunge.
“Oh, probably… we’ll probably lose half the people that already like us!” Misha chuckles, clearly not remotely perturbed by the idea. “That happens with every album. We put the song The Scourge out first, partly because it was weird, but it’s also strangely representative of the vibe of the album. Out of context it’s very different from anything we’ve put out before… and some people hated it and wrote us off on the spot, saying, ‘I’m never gonna support this band again!’ like we’d just kicked their mom in the face or something. But, at the same time, a lot of people came around and after a few listens said, ‘OK, I get it!’ That’s always been the way with our music.”
It hardly needs saying that what Periphery do belongs squarely in a sonic niche that manifestly does not appeal to everyone. Call it djent, call it tech-metal or, as Misha does, call it prog: Juggernaut’s densely layered idiosyncrasies will be widely perceived as belonging to a scene that has already reached that inevitable point where there are more bands sticking rigidly to a predetermined blueprint than there are bands willing to take risks and move the genre forward. Periphery belong firmly in the latter camp, of course, but it’s hard to imagine Misha – or, indeed, his British brothers-in-tech in Tesseract - feeling any great affinity with the hordes of worthy but unimaginative djent bands that have followed in his own imperious wake.
“Here’s how I feel about the djent thing…” the guitarist begins, plainly aware that tetchily disassociating himself from the d-word is simply not going to fly. “It all began when Acle Kahney [Tesseract guitarist] and I were messaging each other when we were both just in our bedrooms, messing with stuff. Obviously we were both into Meshuggah and that was a part of how we got started, but we went in other directions and had other influences. We were both doing something, and I called it prog because prog was what I listened to. What I liked about it was you could do whatever the fuck you wanted. With every other genre, there seemed to be limitations. There were limitations that separated rock from metal, trance from drum’n’bass… but with prog you had an open palette and could do whatever you wanted.”/o:p
“Today there are probably two sets of bands,” he continues. “There are bands that have come up and been retroactively called djent, like us and Tesseract, Veil Of Maya and After The Burial. Then there are bands that actively identify as djent. It’s a style of music but it’s very limiting. That’s not to say that it’s right or wrong. It’s just we have a different pursuit, which is to do whatever the hell we want. And for the record, we’re not trying to pioneer a damn thing! That was never a goal.”
In many ways, Misha Mansoor is the ideal figurehead for a scene that he doesn’t really belong to. Smart, articulate and self-effacing, he and his band have reached this point by doing things their own way, and it’s that ethos, rather than some specific musical formula, that he believes informs the best and most interesting music. But where some musicians would offer pious platitudes about not being interested in anything beyond the creative process, Misha is also clued-up about the way the music business works and why Periphery – a band that evolved within a self-contained online community – have provided the industry with such a conundrum when it comes to pursuing mainstream attention.
“I can only really relate this to our fanbase, but our crowd tends to be aged between 18 and 25 and they’re probably more technologically inclined, so these are the kids that know how to download music for free and they’re probably the kids that invented it, right?” he muses. “But that crowd doesn’t have a monetary voice. You can’t monetise their voice in a way that you can with the younger crowd that still lives with their parents. So our audience isn’t really financially relevant. That’s why I think the djent and prog fans are underestimated by the music business, because financially they aren’t worth investing in. Where they are super-supportive is at shows and through merch sales. It’s just a different thing and we’re OK with that.”
Amid the labyrinthine riffs and soaring, intermittently obtuse melodies of the Juggernaut albums, there burns a great deal of passion and soul. But not everyone is going to get it, and while Periphery’s laudable artistic aims will endear them to many, the perception will doubtless remain that tech-metal and djent amount to a lot of technically dextrous, digital age dicking about aimed at hopeless nerds and those who regard music as an exercise in mathematics rather than art. Misha’s heard it all before, of course, and he doesn’t care.
“That’s the thing about music. It affects everyone differently,” he grins. “I see it all the time, someone saying, ‘I want to like Periphery but their music’s so soulless!’ and someone will say, ‘Yeah, I know what you mean…’ but they can never agree on what they mean. They can’t even agree on what they disagree about! But that’s what’s beautiful about it. There’s a million different reasons to hate us, but hopefully a million different reasons to like us as well. It doesn’t bother me in the least. I feel like this is music I can get stoked about, and that’s all that really matters.”
JUGGERNAT: ALPHA AND OMEGA ARE OUT NOW VIA CENTURY MEDIA. PERIPHERY HIT THE UK NEXT MONTH./o:p
IN PROG WE TRUST
Fancy delving into some more prog odysseys? Here’s where to start.
APHRODITE’S CHILD: 666 (1972)
Plundering the Bible for inspiration, this experimental double concept piece propelled these Greek eccentrics to the prog forefront in 1972. Warning: also contains the simulation of a female orgasm. CHOICE CUT: THE FOUR HORSEMEN
LE ORME: FELONA E SORONA (1973)
A bewildering art rock tale of two planets – one vibrant, one doomed – that circle each other in space, Italian proggers Le Orme helpfully recorded an English language version of this. It was still barking mad. CHOICE CUT: SOSPESI NELL’INCREDIBILE
YES: TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS (1973)
Eighty minutes of pot-addled mumbo jumbo, ostensibly based on four strands of Hindu scriptures known as the shastras, Yes’s magnum opus proved a hefty challenge for even their most devoted fans. CHOICE CUT: THE REMEMBERING
MAGMA: _MAGMA _(1970)
Surely the maddest of the lot, Magma comprised a sprawling tale of humans fleeing a doomed Earth and settling on the fictional planet of Kobaïa. Magma even invented their own language for the occasion. The nutjobs. CHOICE CUT: KOBAIA/o:p