Hook, Line, No Sinker
I’ve noticed something I do when I’m listening to Periphery. It’s probably not something many of their other fans do, but from my impressions, Periphery’s fanbase aren’t the most intelligent or interesting bunch. When I listen to a Periphery song, especially from this album, I subconsciously filter the instrumentation, and focus entirely on Spencer’s vocal parts. It’s strange, because many, many people do the opposite, and so often Periphery have been asked to provide instrumental versions. But I just can’t afford to have this barrage of murderous noise affect my enjoyment of the great melodies that Spencer manages to come up with.
Lets be honest, Periphery have some of the worst and messiest instrumentals I have ever heard. It’s not just the farty ‘djent’ tone that they seem to still have an obsession with, it’s also the masses and masses of parts that don’t seem to blend with each other, it’s the strange need they have for putting riffs everywhere, where maybe there should be chords or textures, but they just chug everywhere and everywhen. There’s no doubt that these guys are incredibly talented. Some of them, I even have some respect for. Matt Halpern is undeniably an incredibly versatile drummer, he can play nearly every style of metal drumming with flair and technicality (although his kit tone is pretty terrible), and I also have respect for him as an entrepreneur and businessperson, with his music lesson business and drum clinics (although I wish they weren’t so expensive), and then there’s Nolly, their new British bassist, who is one of my favourite producers ever. He has produced some of my favourite underground rock records, like Natural Tendency and The Holographic Principle, but I just wish I could find some respect for him as a bassist.
I’m generally not a fan of this kind of music, as my opinions on Animals as Leaders and the like should prove, and it’s why I hate it being called ‘progressive metal’, because I never know if an album is the great progressive metal that I love, or this messy and unoriginal style of making me cringe. Yet, above all that, I still enjoy Periphery’s music, and as I mentioned before, it’s almost entirely down to their vocalist, Spencer Sotelo. Sure, they have a good riff every now and then, like the lead riff of “Scarlet”, or some of the stuff during “Ji” or “Luck As A Constant”, but it’s covered with that vomit tone and so much damn compression that I struggle to hear it. And even their atmospheres are bad, the pseudo-electronic tones they put in are just so dried up. But, I still enjoy them.
When you listen to the vocal parts over the instrumentals, you really have to gain some respect for what Spencer has to do. Listen to any of the parts, and imagine putting a vocal part over that. There are no chords, no melodies, not even many rhythms to base your part on, yet Spencer does it so flawlessly. And he does it, basically, by ignoring everything and just flying over the top. It doesn’t mix with the music well at all, and maybe that’s why so many people hate him, but at least his parts are good, unlike those guitar parts…
But seriously, pull the vocals from this album and I’d be struggling to give it a score above 3.5/10. The riffs are sloppy and without defined rhythm or key, and the solos are beyond awful. Shit, some of these solos are from skilled players, but they all sound so forced and out of place, like the band has gone “right, solo here and here and here” and then played some random string of notes. Take the track “Erised”, which is one of the quieter ones (therefore the best), but both solos here just sound so unnatural and forced, especially the first one, coming straight out of a rather nice verse. The solos don’t hold a melody or idea for their duration, they just play seemingly random notes in a random order. As much as I hate to praise someone like John Petrucci, at least his solo starts out well. Those first two or three arpeggios fit perfectly in with the music (although I’m not sure any of the last two minutes of “Erised” are necessary at all), but of course, being Petrucci, it dissolves into mindless wank within a few seconds.
But it’s thoroughly impressive how Spencer and his incredible knack for an excellent hook keeps this album afloat so long. I’ll be listening to a track, thinking “man, this one’s pretty bad, I’ll probably skip this next time”, but partway through, Spencer just hits a groove and sings something so absolutely scrumptious that I have to go back and replay it. Take a song like “Have A Blast”. The violin part at the intro is alright, but it quickly dissolves into some pretty hefty wank-core, and aside from a couple of nifty parts from Halpern (his sudden blast beat part is great), it’s a pretty dismal track. But then…
“…and it’s the thrill of life that enables us to grow. Locked in the spirit’s line, souls entwine to journey on as one.”
And then suddenly it’s incredible. I’ve regularly used “Have A Blast” as an example of a track that goes from absolute trash to beauty within seconds. And it’s not just the vocal line, during that segment I actually think the guitars finally fit with the vocals and the tone, creating a beautiful segment with a spine-chillingly good vocal melody.
But it’s not a single moment. The number of times this happens during This Time It’s Personal is ridiculous, nearly every song has some moment that redeems it from mediocrity, all of them from Spencer. The only real tracks that fail to have any moments I enjoy would be “Make Total Destroy” and the last four tracks, which I will usually pass on when giving this album a spin. I can honestly say that the only tracks I enjoy right the way through would be “Muramasa”, “Scarlet” and “Erised”, when Spencer is given enough front time to make a difference for the whole track. The melody from “Muramasa” is absolutely brilliant, and the thing that made me look into this album when the trailer was released (I didn’t expect much after the debut), but both the times it is reprised, in “Ragnarok” and “Masamune”, it feels weak and forced, and doesn’t even save those tracks from mediocrity.
“Facepalm Mute” would probably be the worst track here, messier and more metalcore than everything else, but then the chorus hits, and “NEGLECT A SENSE OF IGNORANCE TO ALLTEEEER LIEEEEEESS” and suddenly it’s fantastic. The hooks on this album are possibly the best I’ve heard in years.
“We are the dark, that feed upon the living in sooolid shadoooooawwwww”
“…if you love the guilt then let it die, a life left so clean. We’ll measure the price of misery”
“It’s noooot for meee to saywhatyouneedtobelieeeeve”
This Time It’s Personal is a record I love for basically the opposite of the reasons its fans love it, and I know that full well. I can see what the haters are saying, this is pretty bad, but I just can’t say no to those hooks.
Originally written for my Facebook page/blog: www.facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog