PUSCIFER, Existential Reckoning, CD (Signed by all members)

Existential Reckoning is the fourth studio album by rock supergroup Puscifer. The album was released on October 30, 2020, by Alchemy Recordings and BMG Rights Management.

“Born in 2003 during the murky “Underworld” movie’s film soundtrack, and eventually turned into an oddball, jokey, electro-dance cabaret act (any act calling its debut album “‘V’ Is for Vagina” is playing for obnoxious laughs), Puscifer was primed to portray Keenan’s teasing, sex-and-smarmy techno-tronic side.

Since that giddy commencement, Pucifer’s shifting lineup got less slimily silly and more trance-like and serious with each release (including 2011’s “Conditions of My Parole” and 2015’s “Money Shot”) until winding up with the airily hypnotic electronic rock of this week’s pre-Halloween release, “Existential Reckoning.”

The least humorous, most portentous of its works does come with goofball elements in its sleeve and video references to “Men in Black” and some bleakly comic peeks into an empty, post-COVID landscape. Beyond those minor jibes, this Puscifer is something of a frowny-faced look at one man’s insistent need to keep score — with other men, with nature or with himself — while fist-pumping the air with ’80s-vintage new wave pop tones. And  it all works out brilliantly, and Maynard-ly, even when you think it won’t.

Take the opening track, “Bread and Circus.” As its slapping snares, breathy keyboards, Bernard Sumner-like pluck and mannered vocals unfurl, Keenan and fellow vocalist Carina Round can be heard turning the seven-syllable phrase “existential reckoning” into something more like 12 syllables, before going into a chorus that goes: “Acquiescent and idling. Predestinated circling. Romulus and Remus paradox, trade it all for nothing more than concessions, fireworks, pageantry, glitter, gladiators, and jesters, just entertainers. Bread and Circus.”

By all rights, persnickety lines like those should stop the proceedings, pretentious as they are and as overly complex for a pop song as this is. (The sound is not the wrenching metal of Tool by any stretch of the imagination.) Yet Keenan’s musicality and sense of contouring are as smart as his text, and each element within the contagious melody’s arrangement hugs his lyrics like a lover’s embrace. “Theorem” too, a lost Devo-meets-Prince track if ever there was one, uses the warmest, most soulful melody to thaw its icy twin vocals and cold, Ayn Rand-like lyrical ideas.”


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