Puscifer – “Existential Reckoning”


There are bands that I tend to neglect, to my shame.  Puscifer is one these bands.  With Maynard James Keenan as vocalist, you would think that I would have listened to everything they’ve released, but I’ve barely scratched the surface.  Their latest album, released on October 30th, is called “Existential Reckoning”, and is looking to make me rethink my process with the band.

Puscifer, to me, has always been Maynard’s shadowy third project.  What I’m learning, however, is that Tool is his intellectual, technical side, A Perfect Circle is his evocative, emotional side, and Puscifer is his abstract, anything-goes project that simply allows him to let down his hair and create something unbound by genre labels.  The band officially includes Maynard James Keenan on vocals, Mat Mitchell on guitar, bass, and keys, and Carina Round on vocals and keys.  This album also features Greg Edwards on bass, guitars, and keys, and Gunnar Olsen and Sarah Jones on drums.

As I mentioned, the band isn’t easily labelled.  In some moments, they may seem like progressive rock to a certain degree, but this album especially is mostly a form of electronic rock with lots of odd song structures, creative quirks and accents, and a fantastic rhythm section.  Maynard tends to sing in his soprano voice using lots of staccato rhythms, and Carina provides plenty of backing effects and harmonies.  This isn’t guitar-driven at all, though you will hear plenty of strategically placed guitar licks that have quite an effect.

The rhythm section is one of the strengths here.  Greg, Gunnar, and Sarah lay down some fairly complex beats and grooves that really make this album work.  Maynard has always worked with excellent drummers, but the more novel sound of this project especially requires some meat coming from the bass and drums, and that’s exactly what they offer.

Maynard sounds fantastic, as always.  I do prefer his vocals on APC, but he never fails to arrest my attention no matter which tone he takes.  There are a couple songs where he gives us more of a baritone performance that reminds me of APC’s “Emotive” album, but overall he tends to stay high and innocent in his sound.

“Existential Reckoning”, as you can probably guess, is quite blunt lyrically.  I have long been a fan of Maynard’s writing, and this album provides the same biting social commentary, especially with the election looming before us.  The lyrics criticize politics and religion, yes, but they analyze our society as a whole, too, beseeching us to create ourselves and culture anew.  I appreciate how Maynard can make these points with metaphorical, classy wording at times, but other times he says what he is really thinking with salt and direct force.

Overall, this is a rather diverse album.  You will hear long, more spacious tracks like “Bread and Circus” or “Apocalyptical”, one of the singles.  Those tracks are formed from the same clay, so to speak.  Other songs are based around interesting rhythmic concepts, such as “Grey Area” with its otherworldly, robotic sound, or the elongated vocals of “Postulous”.  Some songs are completely out of left field, though, like the ethereal, artificial intelligence sound of “Theorem”.  Still other songs are simply fantastic songs that focus on melody and chorus, such as “The Underwhelming”, “A Singularity”, or the lyrically-vicious “Fake Affront”.

I think my favorite tracks are “Upgrade”, “Bullet Train to Iowa”, and “Personal Prometheus”.   “Upgrade” has a great beat that gets me invested immediately, and the song is as smooth as butter.  “Bullet Train to Iowa” is a slow-burning track that focuses more on Maynard’s vocal expression than anything else.  I love it.  “Personal Prometheus” is the longest song on the album at just over 7 minutes in length.  It is something of a downtempo track, more ambient and electronic than anything else.  I love the lyrics, the chorus, and the burning tone of the electronica.

“Existential Reckoning” has finally made me pay more attention to Puscifer.  This is an album that balances poetry with irreverence, and brilliance with madness.  There are songs that will please just about anyone here, but also songs that will stretch you to your limits.  I find that I enjoy it as much as the latest Tool album, though not quite as much as APC’s last release, but I also feel like this record will grow on me substantially. 

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