ALBUM REVIEW: Puscifer – Existential Reckoning

Release Date: October 30th 2020
Label: BMG


In little more than two consecutive years, fans have been treated to new albums from both A Perfect Circle and Tool, while the imminent arrival of a fourth Puscifer full-length was teased before summer.

It’s evidently a very nice time to be an avid follower of Maynard James Keenan. Witnessing a seasoned veteran of the scene, who many assumed was currently more content with making wine, return in such prolific and potent fashion has been refreshing.

Now, while ‘Eat The Elephant’ and ‘Fear Inoculum’ both had their detractors, there’s no denying that Keenan remains as commanding and entrancing as ever. A major gripe many took with the latest Tool record was his somewhat minimal presence in relation to the grandiose quarter of an hour song-lengths. While one might argue that these select moments add to the tasteful slow-burn and ethereal swelling of the material, naysayers will be elated to know that ‘Existential Reckoning’ pushes Keenan front and centre.

Often referred to as “a playground for the various voices in my head”, Puscifer has never had a clear trajectory or definitive audible aesthetic apart from Keenan‘s distinct vocals. The malleable fusion of electronica, desert rock and even trip-hop have engaged some yet underwhelmed others. What makes this new album so rewarding is just how focused and cohesive the entire endeavour feels, like a new-wave cum cyberpop grunge troupe glitching their meander through the Mojave Desert.

Engulfed by sparse, ambient electronic textures of a vintage era, Keenan is often smothered in layers of vocoder, which could potentially render a more indiscernible vocalist near unrecognisable. While not on the same epic scale of Tool, the tracks here still require patience to unravel as spaced-out compositions expand and dissolve into electro-alt-grunge séances. Where lead single ‘Apocalyptical’ bolsters a devil may care swagger, more detached cuts like the dreamy, neon haze of ‘Theorem’ and the pondering, crippling uncertainty of opener ‘Bread And Circus’, paint some of the most mature and vulnerable work from Keenan to date under the Puscifer moniker.

‘Bullet Train To Iowa’ stands as a key centre-piece, blending classic sci-fi new wave jolting synths with sand-stained desert-worn guitar lines, while Keenan whispers and croons sultry narratives simultaneously iconic yet alien. It’s this nuanced twisting of familiarity that elevates ‘Existential Reckoning’ to be the strongest Puscifer work to date, and one that deserves just as much credence as that afforded to Keenan‘s more renowned projects.