Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Periphery - Juggernaut (2015)
Periphery's most massive undertaking to date, Juggernaut continues in the vein of Periphery II but on a larger scale. 

The album shows the band at the peak of their creativity. The Alpha side is the poppy side with such songs as Rainbow Gravity and 22 Faces delivering the band's trademark mix of brutality and catchiness. 

Omega on the other hand is a more diverse and experimental affair. To highlight some of this diversity: The extremely catchy sing-along ballad Priestess sits alongside the thrash-influenced Graveless and the prog epic Omega. 

I absolutely love Periphery II, but here one gets the clear sense that the band have pushed themselves to write their most compelling, bombastic material to date. One particular area of excellence (though many would disagree on this) is Spencer Sotelo's vocals. His performance on PII was already a dramatic improvement from the debut album, but here he's upped his game even more and is making the songs that much more dramatic. 

On the downside, the album does feel a bit repetitive with the same djent-chug present on basically every song. It's not a huge issue, but there will definitely have to be some significant experimentation on the band's next album.

Overall though, this is an extremely impressive album and my favorite from Periphery so far. 

P.S. Misha Mansoor should REALLY make an electronic album. The bits I've heard on Juggernaut and PII are phenomenal but there simply aren't enough of them.

Steven Wilson - Hand. Cannot. Erase. (2015)
As regular viewers of my blog (assuming there any) are aware of, I'm a huge Steven Wilson fan (I gave The Raven a 10/10), so to say I was eagerly anticipating this is a criminal understatement.

The Raven is a fantastic album on its own terms, but its genius is somewhat marred by a distinct lack of creative progression. With little to differentiate it from Grace for Drowning except its ghost themed song-stories, I see The Raven as a creative step backwards for an artist who's known to push boundaries and avoid repetition. 

While Hand. Cannot. Erase. isn't entirely free of repetition (after all, Steven Wilson does have a particular "sound" that he's come to be identified with), what we see here is a quantum leap in terms of artistic progression, diversity of influences, and overall staying power of the music. 

Classic albums such as Dark Side of the Moon or Wish You Were Here are awarded legendary status not simply because of the music, but mainly because of the music's emotional quality and the lyrics' timeless messages. Concept albums, when executed flawlessly, center the music around a story that the general audience can relate to. For The Raven, there were multiple ghost stories - an intriguing concept, no doubt, but the album as a whole lacks the emotional impact that a single narrative can bring.

Without intending to sound pretentious, I believe that H.C.E. can, at least in some ways, be rightfully called the Dark Side of the Moon of the modern age. The thematic basis of H.C.E. is the film Dreams of a Life, which in turn is based on the true story of a woman who died in her London apartment and lay undiscovered for over two years. These themes of isolation and alienation in society were explored in depth on Dark Side of the Moon, but they are given a modern veneer and a relatable character in Wilson's opus.

From the hopefulness of 3 Years Older and the title track to the boredom of everyday life on Routine to the disconnection from real life on Ancestral to the inconclusive ending to the character's story on Happy Returns, H.C.E. masterfully traces a sketch of life in a postindustrial, urban environment. Through Rush-like guitar passages, psychedelic keyboard noodling, and hypnotic Boards of Canada-esque sampling, Wilson's true creative genius is on display as he marries the lyrics to the music in a way that's immediately relatable for not only his longtime fans, but most likely many new ones to come.

Wilson's previous three albums are all brilliant, but this seems to be the first one where he's truly proved himself as a master solo artist. In my view, this album completely obviates any need to revive the Porcupine Tree project, which so many fans have been clamoring for. Compared to the artistic maturity shown on this record, such a move would be a significant step in the wrong direction. In fact, no other Wilson album has connected with me quite like this one has. That isn't to say that it's my favorite Wilson release (In Absentia and Fear of a Blank Planet are still classic albums for me), but the sheer diversity of every song, as well as the way they connect with each other in a beautiful, yet heartbreaking tale of loss, puts this album over the edge as my favorite album so far this year. Indeed, short of something miraculously good coming out, I foresee this album taking my #1 spot at year's end.

A truly deserved 10/10