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Puscifer’s Existential Reckoning is deliberately annoying, genuinely funny and weirdly emotional

Maynard James Keenan and co find serenity beyond the silliness on Puscifer’s new album Existential Reckoning

Existential Reckoning
(Image: © Alchemy)

If your debut album’s called “V” Is For Vagina, you can’t expect folk to take you too seriously. And to his credit, Maynard James Keenan – he of Tool, A Perfect Circle and… wine – has never demanded respect nor understanding of Puscifer. The project began as a purge playground, betwixt his main band’s 13-year dry spell; as the years dragged on, though, Puscifer got better. More song-orientated. More, for want of a better word and a sick bucket, mature.

At album four, Maynard and co find themselves sounding an awful lot like APC’s last record, Eat The Elephant. Or vice versa. That chilled-out, serene musical spine of piano and sparse guitar supports both albums, even if Puscifer do bend it a little more, Bread And Circus’s electronics evoking vintage Skinny Puppy amidst the alt-rock wooziness. But weirdly, Existential Reckoning’s selling point is its emotional resonance – In particular on A Singularity, where Maynard’s higher, softer notes are flanked by snappity, digitised snare. Co-vocalist Carina Round lurks in the background as the keys and guitar swell, readying Maynard’s proclamation: ‘God damn the sun!’ – not the first time Puscifer have taken direct influence from Swans, but Maynard owns that line with such conviction, such pathos, he rehomes it.

Puscifer’s always been dismissed as Maynard’s ‘silly’ band. Existential Reckoning isn’t silly. In places deliberately annoying, yes – Postulous’s vocal loops will drive you up the wall; in places jarring, sure – Carina’s ‘Shut the fuck up’ on Fake Affront is genuinely funny, but Maynard ripostes it with his seldom-used, deep-throated cry: ‘Far right, far left, same shit.’ The kookiness rises just high enough to make this a Puscifer album, but it’s an accoutrement - a subtle note, a seasoning atop the band’s tightest serving of songs to date. Maynard James Keenan has something to say. Listen. It’s awfully catchy.