I am vaguely aware from my son and his friends that various metal styles, including so-called "Djent", divide opinion and that there are purists who abhor Periphery. Reminds me of when I was 16. :)
So let me declare that I don't give a monkey's about such stylistic debates and this will be a review on musical merits alone.
As a first release (that I'm aware of), this is a very worthy album which shows lots of promise. Today, high levels of musicianship are a given in heavy metal but, alas, originality is often not. Periphery seem to be a far less bounded by stylistic "purism" and keen to experiment, and it is clear that there is a coherence to their choice of influences, which seem to include elements of metal bands like Meshuggah, Drum and Bass (or whtever it is called these days), Allan Holdsworth, late incarnation King Crimson, some Dream Theater, contemporary ambient music, and even pop and "Nu-Metal" (or whatever that is called these days).
This may be where they lose many mainstream metal fans, and other musically less adventurous souls.
The group use three guitarists and do so to good effect, with their parts carefully orchestrated to provide a rich soundscape and "big" chords (i.e., not just 5th "power" chords). The effect is sometimes reminiscent of Allan Holdsworth chordal progressions, sometimes "Signals"-period Rush. Sometimes neither: the more industrial sections remind me of some of the more chaotic late period King Crimson, or even Prodigy. The singer's melodies are all strong and show harmonic ambition, including melodic minor modes, with an incredible range.
However, more important than this stylistic eclectism in orchestration are the musical ideas, and in both the compositions and performance, these are strong, embellished with original and witty solos. Some may find the rapid shifts of style within the songs a distraction, and I would agree that sometimes, there appears to be a gratuitousness about some of these abrupt shifts. But listen beyond this and you may find originality both in the compositions and lyrics, and imagination in their orchestration.
Standout tracks? Quite a few and I have found no major duds here. Of course, the obvious songs like "Icarus", "Jet Packs Was Yes!" are a good place to start, but others show their originality better.
The guitar breaks and solos on "Insomnia" (which starts off with a beginning similar to Yes's "Close to the Edge" before delivering a shattering suckerpunch of 7-string brutality), "Buttersnips" and "Totla Mad" are refreshingly original, showing both some jazz and industrial influences, beyond the the predictable diminshed/harmonic minor noodlings of less original metal bands. And yes, a lot of "djenty" riffery.
Sometimes the solos are also refreshingly laid back and blusey ("Jetpacks" and "Racecar"), something tough to find on some metal albums, whose guitarists almost seem afraid of such simplicity. Also, Periphery apparently see no reason not to use the studio as a musical instrument, so there are some refreshing uses of effects and sampling.
And whilst it is true that Periphery wear their influences on their sleeve, that's no bad thing: with the many diverse influences they have and the choices they make, I am very optimistic for future albums. Indeed, they may well turn out to be the band I wished Dream Theater had the imagination to be.
So if you're a style "purist", or perhaps not too advanced in your musical appreciation (hating jazz is a good sign), this may be too challenging (hence some of the negative reviews I've seen). But if you really like your progressive rock to actually be progressive (rather than Dream Theater's "Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Phantom of Metallica' for distorted guitars", or a rehash of other older styles), then check this out.
As the MC implores at the end of "Icarus Lives": "Periphery! Love that sh**!"