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Six albums in and DC djentlemen Periphery are still doing exactly what they want.
MORE: THE HYST LIST: The Top Ten Musical Bamboozles That Scramble Your Brain // GHOST: Arise From Leviathan’s Shadow // REVIEWS: I PREVAIL: Trauma // PERIPHERY: Periphery IV: Hail Stan // TOTALLY UNICORN: Sorry // ELUVEITIE: Ategnatos
Misha Mansoor sounds really stoked. The instigator, guitarist, producer and creative core of progressive metal prodigy Periphery is still just welcoming his band’s newest album into the world. In typical quirky fashion, the latest release is titled Periphery IV: Hail Stan, in spite of it actually being the group’s sixth full-length statement.
“It’s what I call the Final Fantasy numbering scheme,” the self-confessed gaming nerd explains with a chuckle. “In Japan it would probably be Final Fantasy 6 or 7 or something. Just forget about numbers. I’ve never been good at math. Let’s just not think about it, and move on.”
Being hopeless with numbers seems like a strange assertion to make for a member of a band whose music is known for lurching, oft-kilter arrangements and shifting time-signatures.
“It’s more about feel, dude. There’s a lot of feel.”
He candidly admits to being surprised that people like the music he makes. While he’s grateful for the appreciation, Mansoor sounds genuinely amazed that Periphery has any fans at all.
“I’m surprised that anyone likes it,” he says. “We make our music very selfishly. I can’t imagine why anyone would like our music or like us, but apparently they do, so I guess I’m grateful for that. It is shocking to me because in my mind there isn’t anything really that special about it.”
There is a certain self-indulgence that comes with artistic endeavour. Bands like Periphery—and progressive metal in general—have always left themselves open to accusations of excess and creative licentiousness, but it’s the kind of criticism Mansoor can accept. He enjoys making selfish music.
We literally tried to write a short album, but the first song we wrote was 16 minutes long, and that was not on purpose. I think we were just really excited to write.
[ Misha Mansoor ]
“That’s been our approach from Day One,” he concedes proudly. “When we started out, it was not very cool to play that type of music and on the first few tours we did, people didn’t care for us much. But I was just excited to be playing live at all! That was a goal. It’s always been this kind of thing where we never really expected much to come out of it, so we really might as well do it for yourself and make yourself happy.”
As if deliberately provoking judgement for being overindulgent, the new album is yet another Periphery release to clock in at over an hour. At 64 minutes, it isn’t quite as long as the debut, but it does feature their longest ever track, a sprawling Devin Townsend-like 16-minute opus called Reptile about “a guy named Billy Badass who takes down the reptilian overlords,” the guitarist explains.
“We failed pretty badly,” he says of their idea to try for a shorter album this time. “We literally tried to write a short album, but the first song we wrote was 16 minutes long, and that was not on purpose. I think we were just really excited to write.”
Parting ways with bassist Adam “Nolly” Getgood in the meantime, Periphery took a year off to prepare and compose material for IV. The break allowed them to work closer and develop their relationship as a band. Mansoor suggests it was the best time he’s had working on a Periphery album so far.
“It was the best experience writing and recording that I’ve had; I think we’ve got better at being a band. We took the most time that we’ve ever taken off from an album, and I think that was a really beneficial thing.”
As a result, he also rates this as his favourite of the band’s releases.
“There’s always a bit of compromise that has to happen for everyone to be happy,” he says of the creative process that goes into making an album in a band situation. “That’s natural. So you might be 90% happy, 85% happy. Periphery III was hitting that mark where I was 90, 95% happy. I’d say this one’s 98%. I didn’t realise we could make an album with this little compromise on it. On a completely selfish level, it’s the one I’m most happy with.”
You’re not going to please most people if you play progressive metal! I’m really stubborn.
[ Misha Mansoor ]
Mansoor reveals that he worked a lot closer than usual with vocalist Spencer Sotelo this time too. He admits to being “garbage” at lyrics, so that’s the singer’s job, but on IV the pair teamed up on the vocal parts in writing and pre-production.
“Spencer’s such a talented producer when it comes to vocals that we just kind of usually let him do his thing. But this time I actually got quite involved with the vocals, and him and I worked on vocal lines and things. We would basically be singing gibberish and doing whisper screams to sort of set rhythms and the melodies, and just working together and that was a really awesome and helpful experience.”
Sotelo was instrumental in getting SikTh vocalist Mikee Goodman to lend his skills to the album’s opening track, the previously-mentioned Reptile. The bands bonded after a joint US tour and when something extra was needed to add to the narrative, Sotelo decided that Goodman was the man.
“Mikee has helped Mark [Holcomb] get voice acting gigs, because that’s what he does as well,” says Mansoor. “He’s been a really big supporter, and he and Spencer got in touch and Spencer asked him if he’d lend his voice to a certain part and it came out really, really cool. He does these voices, these deep talking voices, and it was perfect for the narration.”
Periphery IV is the band’s first release since breaking from their US label Sumerian in early 2018 (they remain attached to Roadrunner for Australian release), and Misha’s comments a few weeks before that announcement that Periphery made basically no money from their music. Sumerian label boss Ash Avildsen later suggested that they could make as much as they wanted if they made their sound a little more accessible. Mansoor doesn’t buy into it. Even when a criticism of one of Periphery II’s tracks as “repetitive, discordant, structure-less noise” is levelled at him, the guitarist just shrugs it off.
People are very attached. I’ve seen people argue about why we suck. They can’t even agree on why we suck! I like that. I think it’s funny.
[ Misha Mansoor ]
“I wouldn’t say that our music is something that would appeal to most people,” he says with a laugh. “But it’s not really a factor when we’re writing. We’re not even thinking about what our fans want. Because at the end of the day, you’re not really going to please everybody. You’re not going to please most people if you play progressive metal! I’m really stubborn. If I’m proud of something, I’m just proud of it, and I’d rather have something that, even if everyone hates it or doesn’t get it, or whatever, then as long as I like it, that’s what will matter to me. So it’s very selfish, but the only way I really know how to write.”
If Periphery is successful at anything beyond making some of modern music’s most mind-boggling progressive metal, it’s dividing opinions. While most artists can cause arguments among fans and critics about the merit of their output, Periphery seem to be champions at it.
“We’ve always been a divisive band,” Mansoor says. “Everything that we’ve put out. We put out Periphery I and I was so proud of it, and people would go, ‘Oh this sucks. It’s not as good as the demos’, and half the people really liked it. And then, when Periphery II came out and I’m like, ‘Oh now we’re really a band!’ and people were like, ‘Oh what is this garbage? It’s nothing like that masterpiece the first album was!’ And now Periphery II is our classic album. There’s no way to please everyone, so we just don’t care!”
Unlike the plethora of artists and musicians who make the same kind of remark, Misha Mansoor appears to be thoroughly sincere. He’s just happy that people are taking notice at all.
“If there’s one thing about Periphery fans,” he declares, “they can’t agree on anything. People are very attached. I’ve seen people argue about why we suck. They can’t even agree on why we suck! I like that. I think it’s funny.”