Words By: Masen Smith
For nearly a decade, DC prog metallers and forerunners of Djent; Periphery have been churning out album after album of tasty riffs and inventive songwriting. Few bands in the genre have been able to continuously and fluidly evolve for this long, constantly leaving fans guessing on which direction they’ll take next. No sentiment could be truer regarding their latest record, ‘IV: Hail Stan.’ After shockingly departing from Sumerian Records and subsequently launching their own label 3Dot Recordings, their creativity as a band was allowed to take centre stage. On their revamped writing process, guitarist Jake Bowen explained that this record was unique in that it took an entire year to write- something that the rushed schedule of major labels simply didn’t allow. The result is a polished, purposeful, textured and masterfully crafted album, one that was certainly worth the wait.
‘IV: Hail Stan’ begins with “Reptile,” a nearly seventeen-minute behemoth of a track that feels like an EP in itself. An ominous strings intro paired with Spencer Sotelo’s raspy vocals set the scene, building to a massive crescendo broken by an absolutely tasty riff. The lead guitar lines are deliciously complex without descending into needless technicality, an art that the trio of Jake Bowen, Misha Mansoor, and Mark Holcomb have mastered. The ebb and flow of these catchy riffs juxtaposed with a purely anthemic chorus keeps every section feeling fresh, creating space for the track to breathe and develop. This evolution- pitfalls from pure rage to brooding to haunting mysteriousness, showcases how diverse Periphery can be without feeling forced. However far they stray from the formula of Djent, one thing that remains unchanged is their ability to deliver a truly neck-snapping breakdown. Accompanied by more orchestral elements and the duality of Sotelo’s cleans/screams, this track proves the formula for delivering a crushing breakdown can only be improved upon. This continuous rise and fall (accentuated by yet another incredibly layered breakdown) culminates in a chanted motif that builds intensity to a fitting, militaristic concluding riff. This one song set a truly lofty bar for the rest of the album.
“Blood Eagle” follows, an industrial rager of a track that stomps the gas pedal out of the gate. Named after a nordic form of torturous execution, the dark and dissonant atmosphere is fitting of such a macabre subject matter. Mansoor’s solo gives a nod to the atonal, random style of Meshuggah axeman Fredrik Thordendal, and leads perfectly into the most moshable outro I’ve ever heard. That pure aggression continues on “CHVRCH BVRNER,” a short, chaotic, obviously punk influenced track with anger unlike anything the band has ever released. The progginess shines through the madness with odd time signatures and rhythms throughout, a welcome surprise to add to the range of styles already shown on ‘IV: Hail Stan.’
From how the first few tracks set the stage for a continuously heavy album, the progression of the back half of the record proved otherwise. “It’s Only Smiles” took a page out of the ‘Juggernaut: Alpha’ playbook, starting with a hopeful electronic intro before jumping into Mark Holcomb’s similarly happy groove. Soaring choruses paired with reverb-heavy backing guitars give the track almost a pop-punk vibe, but without losing Periphery’s signature sound. Once again, a masterful use of space creates and breaks tension in such a natural, effective way in the bridge. While it took me off guard on first listen, but It’s Only Smiles has quickly became one of my favorite tracks on ‘IV: Hail Stan.’ The record moves on with the extremely Meshuggah-influenced djent staple “Follow Your Ghost.” If you’re a fan of dynamic songs without a loss of heaviness, this would be your crown jewel of ‘IV: Hail Stan.’ Painting a grim, evil soundscape with lyrics to match (“The corpse will swing in all its glory/Remembering the love once shared in life, but now it’s over” is but a sample), “Follow Your Ghost” is definitely the most brooding and dark song on the album. In tandem with Sotelo’s barking vocals, this track alone silences any who say Periphery have “gone soft”.
“Crush” is the black sheep on the album- while many others include electronic elements in the mix, “Crush” is unique in that it pulls those elements to the forefront. The distorted synth drums and meandering vocals creates a trancelike, poppy air that, to be honest, blindsided me- and more than likely would not be a part of a major-label Periphery release. This welcome change of pace proves just how far the five-piece has matured since their debut. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing how these electronic elements make their way into ‘Part 5.’
Drummer Matt Halpern is at his best on this release, unfailingly delivering inventive grooves and creating space with his rhythm choices like very few others can. Contrasting blast beats with accented, cymbal-laden half-time grooves, his decisions on this record are incredibly fluid, textured, nuanced and most importantly of all, fit the respective tracks flawlessly. No track showcases this quite like the penultimate “Sentient Glow.” From punky skank beats, to driving double bass, to a syncopated and colossal rhythm in the chorus, absolutely nothing feels forced. Since the band’s debut, Halpern’s progression has fueled the unique sound P riff have created,and his artistry is on full display throughout all of ‘IV: Hail Stan.’
“Sentient Glow’s” fadeout merges with the intro to “Satellites,” making a full-album listen a continuous experience. As the album closer, “Satellites” is in my opinion one of Spencer Sotelo’s finest performances ever. The nine-and-a-half minute conclusion begins with delay-heavy, reverby notes that set a perfect stage for a dramatic vocal performance. Flitting from a sweet yet melancholy delivery to a feathery falsetto and back again, Sotelo’s control and restraint allow for an explosion of unexpected aggression to catch you entirely off guard. As the harsh vocals subside and Sotelo pushes into his upper register, I was blown away with how much power he can achieve- reaching G5/Ab5 without slipping into his falsetto. The song, and thus the album, concludes with yet another motif- “we’re going under” over a stutter-stepping palm muted rhythm that’s trademark Periphery. The very end of the album concludes tongue-in-cheek with a South Park reference- I’ll leave it to you to hear it.
Overall, ‘IV: Hail Stan’ exceeded my admittedly very high expectations. They proved that, without a label to shape their growth, Periphery will continue to do exactly what they want musically at their own pace and deliver absolute masterpieces in the process. They’re the current standard bearers for progressive metalcore, and will be well into the future.