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Misha Mansoor & Periphery - At the Edge of Greatness

Issue #19

Sometimes a band comes along with such a unique sound that almost overnight every new band seems to sound like them, and nowhere is that example truer than the monumental Periphery.
Levi Clay

Periphery are in the vanguard of the 'Djent' phenomenon - pioneers of the latest twist in the Progressive Metal saga and champions of the eight string guitar. Tom Quayle meets founder and producer, Misha Mansoor plus fellow guitarists Jake Bowen and Mark Holcomb. Levi Clay offers his thoughts on the man who put Djent on the map. And if getting to grips with those Mansoor chops is your goal - check out the link to our exclusive Issue 12 Andy James Tech Session at the end!

Sometimes a band comes along with such a unique sound that almost overnight every new band seems to sound like them, and nowhere is that example truer than the monumental Periphery, the brainchild of guitarist and producer Misha Mansoor.

Born in 1984, Mansoor is the prime example of a player born and raised in the Internet generation. He first picked up the guitar around the age of 14, though he was really more heavily into the drums at this point. In fact it wouldn't be until the relatively late age of 17 that he would get really serious about the guitar.

Mansoor found creative influence from bands like Deftones, Tool, Dream Theater and, probably most importantly, Swedish metallers Meshuggah. Though blended with electronic influences and video game music, he was suddenly coming up with music that sounded somewhere between Meshuggah and Sikth, though always with an emphasis on groove and commercial appeal.

The beauty of the Internet is that Mansoor was able to share his work and get his ideas out for everyone to hear without the need for a record label and a marketing budget. Instead of selling his soul for a record deal, he took to Soundclick, where he has uploaded 157 recordings to date. He promoted these on various Internet forums including Sevenstring.org and the Petrucci forum, resulting in an ever-growing reputation and a legion of fans. At this time he was going under the name “Bulb” as the basis for his solo project which became a nickname.

Not only does the Internet sometimes help establish a new artist or a new direction in music, and does it at lightning speed, but it can do the same with new terms - terms which drop into popular use without anyone really knowing how they got established. Look at “lol” (laugh out loud) and “yolo” (you only live once). In Mansoor's case he has become synonymous with the term “Djent”. This is a point of contention among fans of Metal, however, because the sound associated with the term has its roots much deeper in history than Mansoor and Periphery. In fairness, it was never a label Mansoor put upon himself. In fact “Djent” is actually an onomatopoeic term used to describe the heavily processed and muted power chord sound heard on the recordings of Meshuggah, which when described in words could be vocalised as “djent djdjdjent djent”. The word is one which Mansoor actually credits to Fredrik Thordendal, so when hunting for gear to achieve a tone he would say “Are these pickups djent-y?” and from there it became the go to word to describe The Sound. Since then it has been applied to bands like Tesseract, Animals As Leaders and even retrospectively to bands like Sikth (who broke up in 2007) and Veil of Maya. Suddenly, listeners had created a genre.

Periphery's self titled début was released in 2010 on Sumerian records (Roadrunner in the UK) and was an instant hit with critics and fans of heavy music. The grooves were progressive, yet felt completely natural and the vocals didn't alienate fans. Videos followed, Jetpacks Was Yes! and Icarus Lives!, the latter being a great introduction to the group's early work. Periphery took to the road and played alongside top names like Protest The Hero, Jeff Loomis and Dream Theater, blowing away audiences across the world and expanding their fanbase exponentially.


When it comes to a style, Mansoor creates technically demanding riffs combining power chords, tapping, open strings, wide stretches and complicated polyrhythms that seem to have their roots in sheer creativity more than any particular influence. The best thing to do to understand what is happening would be to learn some of Mansoor's riffs and check out the link to our Andy James session at the end of this article.

As for gear, Mansoor is absolutely obsessed with finding that perfect rig which blends playability and tone, so while he doesn't have any official endorsements, he does have guitars made by Blackmachine, Mayones, Strandberg, Music Man, Jackson, Bernie Rico Jr. and many more. He is also big on altered tunings and extended range and uses a combination of six, seven and eight string guitars in various tunings (drop C, Drop Ab, Open Cadd9 and an interesting seven string tuning that adds a low B to a dropped D tuning giving you a dropped 6th string). For amps Mansoor has also experimented with everything under the sun and is currently yet another top contemporary player singing the praises of Fractal Audio's all-conquering Axe FXII. Indeed, that was what he and used, along with a 5150 as the power amp for the new album - though it's worth pointing out that many of his Soundclick recordings were done on a POD: a real testament to the idea that it's not the gear you use, but how well you know how to use it!

The band released a follow-up album, Periphery II: This Time It's Personal, in 2012, upping the ante in terms of composition and including some guest appearances from uber shredders Guthrie Govan and John Petrucci. The new direction honed-in on what worked on the first album and brought more of it, showcased in songs like “MAKE TOTAL DESTROY” and “Scarlet”. For newcomers to the band, either of these singles are perfect examples of what Periphery are about and demonstrate what a power they are on the metal scene.

For the future, there's the long-awaited project called Juggernaut, that has been on the way for some while now. There are updates from the band on YouTube every now and then but, as yet, no release date. Possibly even more interesting is that Misha Mansoor announced that he plans to begin work on his first full solo album this year, to be performed and produced entirely by himself. That, when it's released, promises to be An Event.

 

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