The age of djent is over. Whether people would like to admit it or not, the short-lived spotlight of bands with impeccably polished production and syncopated palm-muted guitar riffs played on extended range guitars has come to an end in the world of metal, and most younger bands that are gaining any popularity are instead going for grimier, harsher sounds like Code Orange. Having said that, there is definitely still a place in the realm of metal for this style of music, with the genre’s forefathers Meshuggah still going strong in 2019, and many subsequent acts releasing decent to stellar records - whether that be Tesseract continuing to show their immense soundscapes on Sonder, Monuments pummelling us with riffs on Phronesis, and even the reformation of the legendary Sikth.
The main band that helped elevate the genre to any level of popularity in the first place though was Periphery. Originally centred around guitarist and producer Misha Mansoor, the band drew high praise for their self-titled debut record back in 2010 and have since only continued to tweak and improve on their own style within the metal umbrella. They reached a creative peak in 2015 with the release of their critically acclaimed Juggernaut double albums, but following on from that, their 2016 release, Periphery III: Select Difficulty, whilst no slouch, seemed to pale in comparison to its predecessors, and almost felt derivative for a progressive metal band. Maybe the band thought the same, because whilst there was just a year gap between the Juggernaut albums and Select Difficulty, they have waited 3 years to give us their sixth album, Periphery IV: Hail Stan.
If there’s one word that can be used to describe this album, it’s ambitious. The first track, 'Reptile', featuring Sikth vocalist Mikee Goodman, is not only the longest track on the album, but is also the longest song the band has ever recorded. Starting an album with a song that long is risky; not only does a 17 minute long song need to be impressive enough to justify its length, but if it manages to do that, what follows on from that has a lot to live up to. Thankfully, Periphery achieve the former of those two expectations, because 'Reptile' can only be described as a mammoth of a track which really displays Periphery at their absolute best. Complete with face-melting riffs, soaring melodies and orchestration arranged by Randy Slaugh, who has also worked in the past with Architects, Misery Signals and a whole slew of other bands, there isn’t a single boring moment on this track.
Compared to the fairly derivative Select Difficulty, Hail Stan is impressively versatile, and really shows the band at their most creative since Juggernaut. There are some songs on here which are ferocious metal mosh anthems, such as 'Blood Eagle' and 'CHVRCH BVRNER', 'It’s Only Smiles' showcases the band’s softer side and 'Crush' is an electronic rock slow burner, which is refreshing to see as opposed to Periphery just throwing a minute of electronic randomness on the end of a few songs.
All in all, there isn’t a moment wasted on Hail Stan. Periphery have regained their creativity and wackiness that they partially lost on Select Difficulty, and at the same time when you examine the album cover, and the fact the closing track Satellites ends with the words “suck my balls”, you’re reminded that this is a band that never takes themselves too seriously and more importantly has fun with what they do, and their music is all the better for that reason. This album represents Periphery returning to the creative peak they saw themselves at with Juggernaut, and the result of that is a wild but ultimately phenomenal record that serves as a great reminder as to why they helped pioneer a style of metal that many bands copied, but few were able to play to the same quality.