Periphery’s “Marigold” is the anthemic lead single from their third full-length album, “Periphery 3: Select Difficulty”. The song features a dark verse reminiscent of classical harmony, a foreboding and sludgy pre-chorus, and a titanic wall of a chorus that will both inspire you, and have you singing the hook after the first pass. We had the opportunity to sift through the various tracks of the song and take an in-depth look at Periphery's approach to "Orchestration In Heavy Music"! Misha Mansoor, Founding guitarist and head songwriter of Periphery, was kind enough to run us through some of his thoughts and methods regarding the writing and recording of the orchestral instrumentation in the song.
Posted — February 4, 2019
While there’s a ton of material to analyze in Marigold, it’s musical cornerstone is an arpeggio shaped melody that outlines a dramatic and classically influenced harmony:
We’ll refer to this as the “Main Arpeggio Riff”.
It appears in a few different sections of the song but goes through variations in melody, instrumentation, and orchestration. We’re going to break down these variations and shed some light on how Periphery utilize one motif (musical idea) and play with its instrumentation, orchestration, and harmony to come up with a musically interesting and varied, yet cohesive song. Here's what Misha Mansoor had to say about the initial inspiration for Marigold:
"It's funny because right before we started working on PIII, I was facing a pretty serious bout of writer's block. I felt like everything I was doing was just retreading the same ground, and nothing I was writing was making me particularly happy. I got into two things, however, that really sparked an incredible amount of inspiration: Synths and Virtual Orchestral Libraries. Marigold is actually a great example of the latter, as it was one of the first ideas I started working on where I was trying to implement full orchestration into the song."
Variation 1: Intro (Instrumentation)
The first instance of the Main Arpeggio Riff here isn’t actually the idea in its full musical capacity. The intro consists of a lone violin playing the core melody, which prepares the listener with a lighter introduction to the motif before we hear it in it’s fully orchestrated form. Because of this contrast, the bands' entry following this small prelude has a very powerful effect. This first passage both establishes the motif of the song, and prepares our ears for a handful of new orchestration and instrumentation not necessarily associated with Periphery.
This opening violin part is played with sharp, bouncing articulation known as “Spiccato”.
“Spiccato" uses the tension of the bow to seemingly bounce off the string, and often replaces "Staccato" (when stringed instruments are played at high speeds).
Misha employs a great orchestral mixing/recording technique here that is colloquially known as "blending". "Blending" uses virtual instruments as the body of the orchestral sound, while also layering a live recording of the same part to add depth, intimacy, and a little bit of a human element. It’s a tried and true method used by top tier film and game composers, and, as Misha states below, can accomplish an amazing sound without breaking the bank. (If you’re keen on reading a little bit more about blending, check out our last article on Protest the Hero’s Caravan).
Here is Misha on this technique:
"I was using Spitfire stuff on this song, Albion 1 if memory serves, and I just thought the library sounded not only fantastic but pretty damn realistic to my ears. However, I figured that it wouldn't hurt to see how a small section or even a single player playing a real version of the line would sound on top. Turns out, that sounds fantastic. You get the added bit of realism from the live performance mixed with the size and massive sound of the virtual instrument which is recorded by amazing players in an incredible hall. This was my "low budget" way of getting orchestration onto PIII without having to hire a full orchestra and orchestrator for my compositions. For context, that alone would have cost more than the entire budget of the album."
"I had worked with Randy Slaugh in a very limited scope on PII, but here I have to say he had his work cut out. Not knowing traditional music theory or notation, I had to send him all my midi for every instrument/section and then he had to transcribe that to standard notation and then he recorded his players. He did a great job with that to where, when blended in with my programming, it's hard to tell what's what. I didn't use him for every section, as a lot of the orchestral parts that were in the full mix sounded great due to there being relatively less detail, so the exposed sections were the main focus. I believe he mainly focused on the string and brass sections, and especially the higher timbre/tuned instruments as those tend to be the ones that are tougher to recreate virtually. I remember for the intro of marigold, he said that he would have to hire an especially good violinist and most likely have to comp takes together as it wasn't especially playable, but that was honestly fine by me. I was going for sound without worry about how overtly playable an orchestral section might be. Doing this helped bring an added edge of realism and uniqueness to my virtual orchestra, which in turn helped PIII become one of the albums I'm personally most proud of."
Let's get back to the different variations of the Main Arpeggio Riff. Next up, we've got the verse:
Variation 2: Main/The Verse (00:16) (Orchestration)
The second iteration of this arpeggio line is the Main/Verse. While it’s not much of a melodic variation, as it is played in its original form on guitar, the instrumentation accompanying it is much richer than the solo violin we just heard.
The orchestration in this version is much more fleshed out. It doubles the arpeggio in a strings ensemble across two different octaves, with the higher octave being doubled by a flute. The flute has an interesting effect in that it accents a few select notes of the Main Arpeggio Riff. If you isolate these accented notes, they imply a separate melody and rhythm that cut through the song and grab your attention. It acts as a simpler melody hidden in the "Main Arpeggio Riff". If we isolate these accented notes, which largely occur when the palm mute is released, it looks something like this:
And sounds something like this (forgive the MIDI audio):
With that in mind, listen back to the "Solo Strings" audio of this section and pay close attention to the flute. You’ll hear it accenting this inner melody. As a side note, it is a huge rarity to hear woodwinds in this genre of music, so big kudos to Periphery for implementing this in their orchestration. As you'll read in the quote below, Misha comes by this aesthetic in an honest way that pays homage to one of his major influences:
"Interestingly enough, the main riff/theme that opens the song was actually written as a guitar part, but I figured it must be somewhat playable on violin (not knowing anything about actually playing the violin). So I re-interpreted the second verse variation as an orchestral break, and that ended up being a lot of fun to work on. I also had the intro of the song start as a violin and flute. A lot of people don't like using woodwinds in more intense/modern Orchestral music, but I love seeing where I can get away with it because woodwinds are so heavily prevalent in JRPG music, like Nobuo Uematsu's music in the Final Fantasy series".
Variation 3: Verse 2/Reprise (Harmony)
The last variation we’re going to look at is found in both the second verse, and after the second chorus. Melodically and harmonically speaking, it’s a little different than what we’ve heard.
This variation outlines a different chord progression than it’s original form. This time, moving in a more haunting chord progression than its first iteration. This ‘haunting’ movement is largely characterized by its first movement of C minor to the D7 chord. A dark, and ominous harmonic choice.
In the reprise, we hear an arrangement of strings, brass, and percussion that play this same variation of the arpeggio motif. It’s a great moment of orchestral drama, accompanied by Spencer’s Sotelo’s murmuring demon sounds. It gives the section a dark, uneasy texture. One could argue that the murmuring is a part of the orchestration in its own right. The words are not really audible in the mix, but the vocals significantly contribute to the emotional and musical feeling of the section. Here’s the orchestra without the demon sounds, for a slightly cleaner listen:
The violins are in their mid-range when playing this second verse variation, with some accented low notes in the low strings and newly added brass. These accents, similar to the flute from our second variation, outline a new melody underneath the flurry of violins sitting on top. It’s an interesting reversal in instrument arrangement from "Verse 1" ( high flute accents vs. low brass/strings accents). Once the section repeats, the violins start playing in their higher register and we get a bass drum/taiko drum introduction that adds new energy to the part. If you listen really closely, you can also hear a quick ticking sound, which adds to the percussive feeling and helps to create a sense of urgency.
In the final chorus, Misha takes this idea for one last spin. The final lead of the song was written in a similar way to the "Main Arpeggio Riff", as Misha explains below, and establishes a familiar feel that touches on each major aspect of the song.
"The arpeggios in the last Chorus were written as a midi violin line, and then doubled with guitar after the fact, which made them a bit challenging to play as they aren’t entirely conducive to guitar. However it’s a good way to step out of the box I’m in when writing guitar based arpeggios."
This works to great effect in tying up the songs major musical ideas, and sending you off with a reminder of everything you've just experienced.
Written for midi violin:
Doubled with guitar:
Marigold is a great example of how much you can do with one musical idea (motif!). How you can manipulate music in ways that stay within familiarity but offer tremendous movement and effect. Within the genre of progressive music, it’s very easy to move from idea to idea in effort of writing something unique. With Marigold, Periphery reminds us of what we can achieve with one musical idea, using instrumentation, orchestration, and a change of harmony.
Reminds us of how to dig in and toy with our ideas in the musical sandbox.
To Listen to "Marigold" in its entirety, head to one of the links below: