How Periphery Scored Two Top 25 LPs in a Week With a Prog-Metal Opera
When the six members of the Maryland progressive-metal band Periphery convened last summer at the home of drummer Matt Halpern, they had only a massive jumble of disconnected songs. When they left that fraught five-hour fireside, they had Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega, a pair of interconnected concept albums that both debuted earlier this year in the Top 25 of the Billboard 200.
For months before, three members of Periphery — founder Misha Mansoor and guitarists Mark Holcomb and Jake Bowen — had holed up together to write and debate new music. Singer Spencer Sotelo had sequestered himself to write the comic book-like narrative that would tie the songs together. Until they met that day, no one but Soleto knew what the story really entailed, and they used the new information to cut away the compositions that didn’t fit the dramatic arc, whittling a mountain of material into a comparatively slim 17 songs.
“On the way home from the meeting, we were all in our cars, and we listened to the album with this story in mind,” remembers Holcomb. “The lyrics now started to make sense in this big, overarching context.”
Multiple musical themes appear, disappear and reappear across both discs. Moments of jazz, electronica and pop dot a landscape of meticulous melodies and rhythms, turnarounds and sprints. The mix, says Holcomb, reflects the band’s wide-ranging listening habits, from Pantera and Meshuggah to classic hip-hop and Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan.
Rolling Stone talked to these musicial omnivores about the 80-minute suite that became an unlikely chart smash.
Periphery have talked publicly about making a rock opera for years. What drove you to do it now?
The idea has always been, at some point in our career, to do this epic, sprawling concept album. It was this intention that we have to put out a concept album with this huge narrative and all these recurring themes — to make a big rock opera. Shortly after [2012’s] Periphery II came out, we started to have these conversations about what we wanted the next release to be. All the signs were pointing to Juggernaut. And fans were even asking us, “Hey, I love Periphery II, great job, but when is Juggernaut coming out?”
Early last year, we were on tour in the Philippines, and we had the night off. We all got together, and we did some rough sketches of the vibes and emotions and energies we were looking for from the album. We all said the same things: dark, cinematic, brooding. It was basically a reaction to Periphery II, which was very playful and all over the place. We wanted Juggernaut to be a much more serious and daunting listen, maybe not an easy listen.
Audiences and album sales have grown for Periphery so much in recent years. Did that enable the band, financially, to take off three months and just focus on writing?
If we tried to do this after the first album, we probably couldn’t have afforded it. But no matter what, we learned so much from Periphery II‘s recording process. We had to go on tour twice during the recording of that album, and it was really detrimental. We ended up rushing and cutting corners. There are things about it that just don’t sit right with me that can be directly attributed to cutting those corners. We wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again, whether we went broke or not or whether our fans got impatient.