December 8, 2020 Puscifer – Existential Reckoning (Album Review)
Experimental Rock outfit Puscifer is back with their first full-length collection in five years, Existential Reckoning, which was released on October 30, 2020 thanks to Alchemy Recordings and BMG.
A playground for the multitude of creative voices dancing inside Vocalist and Multi-Instrumentalist Maynard James Keenan’s head, Puscifer light-heartedly bill themselves as “an Electro-Rock band, multimedia experience, traveling circus, and alien abduction survivors.” With their 2007 full-length debut, “V” is for Vagina, Keenan and Mat Mitchell cemented themselves as artistic rebels, exploring without boundaries and adamantly refusing to be pigeonholed. But by the time that 2011’s Conditions of My Parole arrived, the twosome was on their way to becoming a giddy threesome with the addition of Vocalist and Multi-Instrumentalist Carina Round. And with their core actors in place, 2015 was ripe for the Money Shot.
All double entendres aside, the talented Puscifer—Keenan (he of Tool and A Perfect Circle fame), Round and Mitchell, along with the assistance of Multi-Instrumentalist Greg Edwards as well as Drummers Sarah Jones and Gunnar Olsen—has recently issued their most experimental record to date. Understandably, the self-produced, 12-song Existential Reckoning allows the trio to resume their brand of exploration without limits, all while presenting listeners with a ruminative, often philosophical, commentary on the issues our global society faces in 2020.
The album opens on the initially delicate, whisper soft “Bread and Circus.” Though, at six and a half minutes in-length, the track will take its listeners on a journey through multiple, pleasing layers with moments that tickle the senses and excite the autonomous sensory meridian response. Giving the collection its name, the opener delivers ambiance anchored in electronic beats, and allows each member of the core threesome to step into the spotlight and re-introduce their talents to the audience.
This sets the stage for a well-crafted and thoughtful LP that never erects self-imposed barricades. Instead, Puscifer’s experimental spirit is alive and well on tracks like the ironically sweet “Apocalyptical,” a condemnation of the joyful ignorance that has led humanity to where we currently sit. Somewhat predictably (in the best sense), throughout the entire album they are unrelenting in their harsh commentary. Which is why it is intriguing that they opt to end their sonic defiance with “Bedlamite,” a song that offers some (sarcastic) hope in its proclamation that “everything will be alright.”
Perhaps most catchy, stylistically speaking, are the tracks that directly benefit from Mitchell’s use of the Fairlight CM IIx and Synclavier II, imbuing the group’s work with an ‘80s influence that, more often than not, feels like a cinematic Sci-Fi experience. From the vocal twists and turns, and stellar percussion, of “Grey Area” to the artificial intelligence feels of “Theorem,” filmic “UPGrade,” and beautifully ethereal sounds of “Personal Prometheus,” Mitchell consistently injects synthesized moments that are akin to sonic transmissions from the future.
However, the central focus of Existential Reckoning should always be considered its lyrical content. The discussion begins with “Apocalyptical” before traveling on an alien spacecraft through an array of ideas, including opening our eyes (“The Underwhelming”), the modern disinformation epidemic (“Grey Area”), breaking free of conformity (“Personal Prometheus”), the current political climate (“Fake Affront”), and more. As always, the material is open to interpretation but there’s a common theme present throughout the perfectly-titled album that is simultaneously timely and timeless, much like the tragically repetitive cycle of history itself.
Of course, there are also the oddballs that stand out among the pack for varying reasons. One such offering being the gritty guitars and doomy bass of the stony “The Underwhelming,” which arrives early in the mix and gives way to the more obvious “Grey Area.” The dusty, bluesy “Bullet Train to Iowa” practices a play on words as it toys with Americana, while “A Singularity” offers a musical delicacy that is contrasted by the brutal frustration of “Fake Affront.”
All of this said, throughout Existential Reckoning, Puscifer works as a unit to deliver an exceptional experience that capitalizes on its trippy moments and provocative food for thought. Vocally speaking, Round and Keenan balance one another perfectly, and we see Keenan taking moments to challenge himself and soar toward new, emotive heights. Combining their skills, the trio of passionate musicians paints a stark picture of our current times, offering remarks on the origins of many of our self-created struggles. It’s a harsh outlook, one that trades sarcasm for sugar-coating, but no one ever said reality was pretty. For delivering a moving tribute to the darkness, Cryptic Rock gives Puscifer’s latest 5 of 5 stars.