Modern progressive metal masters Periphery, are at the top of their game, constantly stunning the scene with their technical prowess, huge production, and epic live shows. They churn out so much outstanding material that they decided to make their third full-length a double album: Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega, a concoction of Periphery’s finest qualities. I recently spoke to guitarist Jake Bowen about this latest release.
So you’re currently in the middle of the “Juggernaut Tour” around the USA, how’s it been so far?
Bowen: Incredible! We’re on tour with great bands and the turnouts have been great. We’re playing new material now and we’re a little bit over a week and a half in to it and it’s just a really comfortable, easy going, fun tour.
Your latest release, the double album, Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega, is due January 27th. What are your thoughts on the album and are you pleased with the outcome?
Bowen: Yeah definitely, I think we did something that we’ve not been able to do as a band before, and we figured out all the obstacles that prevented us from doing it. It’s a concept album and a truly collaborative effort as a full band, so you’re hearing a much more diverse range of influences, and we’re really happy with the way that it came out, and lyrically, melodically and production wise it checks all the marks.
It’s been mentioned a lot that Juggernaut was much more of a collective effort, compositionally. You’ve obviously had input before when composing Periphery material, but how did the writing process differ in general compared to previous albums?
Bowen: Well with the last few things that we’ve done it was always one person or two people or sometimes even three people working on one song together, but never the whole band. With Juggernaut things started with one, two, or three people and then other people were brought in as quality control or helped with arranging or even made compositional tweaks and everybody had to sign off on every song, and that’s where the full collaboration came from because we were really trying to make room for vocals now as its own instrument. We really focused on instrumentals before and now we’re trying to focus the full band’s efforts on making sure everything has its space, and the arranging is a big part of that too. Everybody has good ideas with that and everybody is kind of a producer.
At what point did you guys decide to make Juggernaut a double album, was it always planned that way?
Bowen: No it was kind of a last minute thing, and it was one of the last decisions we made in terms of how we were going to present the album. Originally we were going to try and fit it all on one disc, and then we were listening to the album back many times just to see if we were happy with it, and we felt that once it got past a certain point of it being a lot to digest, we should split it up and make both albums listenable on their own, but it’s also one continuous story from track one to the last track. It can be enjoyed separately or together.
How much of a challenge was it writing a concept album, and is the concept something that’s been around for a while, or was the idea completely new and fresh?
Bowen: Well the idea to do the concept has been around pretty much since the band started, it’s just finding the right time to do it. The thing that changed was what the concept was going to be about. Initially it started as one idea, and then when Spencer [Sotelo, vocals] actually started writing the concept it changed into something completely different. I can’t comment on how hard it was for him, but I’m sure it was very challenging to come up with. As a band we had to pick all the right music and flesh out all the ideas that we thought could be the right vibe for each part of the story we were writing for, so trying to get those things to work in parallel was very difficult. Maybe difficult is the wrong word, I think it was just time consuming because we have a motto to do things right, and it’s important to us to spend however long it takes to get it right.
Check out the song “Alpha”
Juggernaut has some pretty dark themes and it’s the heaviest Periphery have ever been. “Hell Below” and “Four Lights” are earth shattering tracks, but there are also times when you can hear a far more mellow side to your music, such as in “Priestess”. Do you feel that with this sort of concept album, the lyrical content and storyline bring out some heavier, angrier moments, as well as inspiring lighter moments?
Bowen: Yeah the overall concept and the vibe of it is dark and it’s a battle between light and dark, good and evil, and a lot of classic themes so there is definitely an emphasis on the dark side of melody and the dark side of humanity, in terms of the concept. I think it’s illustrated pretty well in the music and in the concept that that’s what we were going for.
You’ve been known for your interludes and segues in previous Periphery albums, but you’ve had less involvement in that side of the composing for Juggernaut. Was that a big decision on your behalf, or was it mutual, playing in with the album being a joint effort?
Bowen: It was kind of something that I just didn’t want to do again. I didn’t want to repeat myself and I already have a solo project which has that style, so I felt like if I did that all over Juggernaut and then released an album people would get sick of it. I’m realistic about it, so that was one of the reasons why I didn’t do my electronic stuff that much on it. I played some synthesisers on some songs, but nothing like the interludes that people might be used to from Periphery: I and Periphery: II. It might come back, it might not, I don’t know, but I think the other guys thought that I might have been bummed out because they were also thinking the same thing and they didn’t even realise that we were completely in agreement. We thought, let’s make the interludes not palette cleansers, but things that bind the songs together, lyrically, melodically and thematically.
The production on Juggernaut is incredible and the tone of all the separate instruments is insane. You all produced the album yourselves, and having your own bassist, Nolly [Adam Getgood] mix and engineer the album, and Spencer produce his own vocals, did you find that it was a lot easier than working with an external producer?
Bowen: Yeah there’s a good reason for that and it’s about knowing the band and knowing what the band is going for, and really the best people to make the most informed decision on that is ourselves. We’re definitely not opposed to the idea of working with a producer, we did some tester tracks with some producers and they were great, it’s just that we had a specific vision and a specific sound and unless we find somebody who has that same thing, and can distill it even further then there’s really no point to working with them. Everybody in the band is super-talented in their own right, and with recording and quality control and having good equipment to record on, I think we did a really good job, and Nolly is a huge component of that now because he recorded the drums, guitars and bass and if it wasn’t for his ability, the album wouldn’t sound like it does.
Juggernaut has so many ideas and motifs, some obvious and some more hidden, that are repeated throughout the two albums. How do you go about creating these ideas? Are they the first things written or are they chosen as the album is composed?
Bowen: I think as the songs get written, there are certain parts of them that we think could be parts of the album that stick out, and can be reprised in other songs. Really it’s just strong melodies that give that kind of stuff life. We just use our ears and listen and take parts that we think are memorable enough to reprise or add to other songs.
Periphery are always moving forward musically, and Juggernaut is no exception to that. There’s something remarkably familiar about the current Periphery sound, and yet it’s completely unique and new at the same time. Is the musical progression something that you consciously try to achieve or does it come quite naturally to the band?
Bowen: I think it’s both. Everybody in the band wants to get better, but it’s not something that’s forced, we all just want to get better and then when it’s time to record, however much progress we’ve made from the last time is apparent because everybody’s trying to push their abilities as players. I think that’s the best way to do it because you don’t want to sound contrived or like you’re really trying to wow people. We’re just trying to please ourselves ultimately, and if people dig it then that’s really what we’re going for.
Check out the song “22 Faces”