Words and Photos by Masen Smith

Over the past (almost) decade of existing as a band, Periphery established themselves as a consistent standard-bearer for prog-metalcore.
By creating a musical identity around a chaotic mismatch of writing styles, Periphery have a specific niche in progheads’ hearts that no other artist can stake a claim on.

Musical unpredictability has been the name of the game. Across the length of Hail Stan’s touring cycle, the band’s lineup has also been subject to unpredictability. As many know, this is the second touring cycle without ex-bassist now-producer Nolly Getgood, and since the European run, the five-piece has shrunk to four in the absence of Mark Holcomb.

On the eve of Periphery’s hometown gig in Silver Spring, another severe blow came in vocalist Spencer Sotelo’s diagnosis with a bad case of laryngitis. So, the three-piece of Jake Bowen, Misha Mansoor, and Matt Halpern (with a fair number of backing tracks) were tasked with bringing the same energy that the original five members could create onstage. I was a bit skeptical at first, but while this was no ordinary Periphery performance, it was special in its own right.

First, though, Plini graced the stage with his signature brand of virtuoso guitar work. I could not say enough positive things about Plini, but all of them fall way short of the emotion his pieces create. Without words, he paints emotion in sound. While some of it is a little musically inaccessible in its complexness, all of it still feels cohesive and wonderful in its own way.

Blending soulfulness, playfulness, a bit of dark heaviness, and more into something that feels whole is a rarity among a sea of instrumental artists in the industry today. The witty Australian’s few quips and attempts at humor brought an airy and lighthearted feel to a performance that could otherwise seem calculated.

I suppose these bits humanized things in a way. Regardless, describing in words the visceral feeling of specific guitar swells in songs like “The End of Everything” or “Electric Sunrise” fundamentally miss the point that these things need to be felt for oneself. Plini, as a project, is just musical genius, plain and simple.

An instrumental opening act was a perfect way to set the stage for a Spencer-less Periphery set. Typically, Spencer is the center of motion and energy, and there’s a commitment to aesthetic/some level of choreography. Every time I’ve seen Periphery play, it’s been musically tight and heavy and all the stuff that makes their studio material great. But this, while it was just as musically excellent as before, felt more human and alive.

Periphery as a three-piece felt more like three immensely talented individuals playing music they love. From interaction with us photographers to a significant increase in crowd participation, this show felt like it was in the name of FUN. After a series of immature (albeit funny) jokes, Misha said, “If you want a serious show go see Tesseract” to the crowd through his laughter.

Even without vocal encouragement, the mosh pits ripped through the entire set, as did an echo of lyrics. I’d never seen an instrumental set get people moving quite this much, proving that this band is worth way more than the sum of its parts. With some setlist revisions (Out goes “Its Only Smiles,” in goes “Masamune” and an old Bulb demo), fans were treated to some deeper cuts that hadn’t been heard live in quite some time.

Periphery bring all the heavy all the time, and even without vocals, the experience they create is among the best live metal shows today. Good fun, better riffs, and even better pits (seriously, “Follow Your Ghost” gets crowds MOVING). What’s not to love? If you question whether Periphery was “better” without vocals, as so many youtube comments suggest,
it’s an unequivocal no.

Even without Spencer, lyrics from the crowd added so much to the band’s live, instrumental performance that the impact absolutely can’t be overstated. All in all, Periphery proved their music is more significant than the people onstage.

While there are no US opportunities to Hail Stan on the horizon, you can catch Periphery at various festivals/headlining dates in the EU. Click to view the dates here!

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