The brainchild and stream-of-consciousness of Maynard James Keenan of Tool and A Perfect Circle, alternative supergroup Puscifer is back with the band’s first release since 2015’s Money Shot. The first track of Existential Reckoning, “Bread and Circus” sets the tone for an album that feels sonically lighter and yet emotionally denser than the previous release. “Here we are in the middle of our existential reckoning,” Keenan sings in a forlorn tenor, “The pawns and powers that be/play checkers, chess, and Monopoly/for keeps, for life, for all/to the death of our servility.” The tongue-in-cheek scathing political commentary is emphasized by discordant synths and a dissonant vocal harmony in the background. The themes of dystopia are close at hand with “Apocalyptical” and its call-and-response vocals, the song made even more unsettling by simple but powerful guitar riffs and a driving bass line. The album as a whole makes great use of silence, sparseness, and rhythm, such as in the bass-heavy groove of “Theorem” and the haunting lurch of “Bullet Train to Iowa,” the latter of which almost sounds like a Tool B-side from the Undertow days. The lyrics and the vocal effects are also a strong point, which is no surprise if you’re a fan of Keenan’s other bands. Puscifer is unafraid to veer into the totally bizarre on this one, with samples, weird synth sounds, and chopped up rhythms and vocal harmonies like those on the trippy glitched-out “Postulous.” Overall, Existential Reckoning is one of those albums where after more than a few listens, you’ll end up with random sections of songs stuck in your head, possibly for days. It’s far from an easy listen at first, but it will likely grow on you whether you’re familiar with the band or not.
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Adrian Halo (MachinewithHumanSkin)