Puscifer’s latest project is one of 2020’s most well-layered albums

The album cover for Puscifer's album "Existential Reckoning" (2020) is pictured. via Amazon

Puscifer has become known as an eccentric band, due to its constant lineup shifts and its obscure artistic approach. It’s the expression of frontman Maynard James Keenan, also known for being the lead singer of legendary alt-metal band Tool and rock supergroup A Perfect Circle. Puscifer serves almost like a solo project for Keenan, exploring different sounds and lyrical themes, this time with the help of producer Mat Mitchell and vocalist Carina Round on their latest project “Existential Reckoning” (2020). While there is a lot to unpack with this record, its sound is as solid as any of Keenan’s other work and is a strong return after over four years since their previous release.

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly had an effect on the recording process of this project, as Keenan actually contracted the virus in late February while touring with Tool in Australia and New Zealand. In a recent interview with New Musical Express, he revealed that he is still suffering from the consequences of the virus. Keenan suffered lung damage while he had the virus and has had daily coughing fits since. In the same interview, Keenan addressed his view on the pandemic, saying, “There’s logic attached to just looking out for each other. I have a lot more questions than answers, honestly.”

Regardless, Keenan was still able to pull his group together and continue working on Puscifer with “Existential Reckoning.” In an interview with Forbes, interviewer Steve Baltin described the work as “The X Files meets Hunter Thompson,” to which Keenan replied, “Hunter S and X Files, I like it, with a little bit of Kraftwerk and Devo mixed in.” If you manage to imagine what that could sound like, you’ll be surprised how accurate the description is. The lead single for the album, “Apocalyptical,” was released in May with a music video of Keenan and Round dressed up in suits, with makeup and sunglasses on, while a masked person in a hazmat suit rides a Onewheel around Hollywood. While there is some sort of government spy theme going on, COVID-19 is also frequently referenced throughout the video, showing the graphic of the virus on the screen, along with Keenan handing the boarder a roll of toilet paper.

As it turns out, the pandemic did not stall Puscifer’s output, and the group released an inspired record. The opening track “Bread and Circus” is a constant synth/drum combo that allows Keenan and Round to sing an intricate melody. Keenan and Round’s chemistry is remarkable. Their alternating turns singing and background vocal samples throughout the song add to its open and mysterious atmosphere. “The Underwhelming” is another really impressive moment on the album, this time mostly featuring its instruments as opposed to its synth. Its groovy bass line allows for Keenan and Round to sing a great chorus, easily one of the most memorable.

In an atmospheric sense, “Grey Area” and “Bullet Train to Iowa” seem to contribute the most to the “Men in Black”-esque attitude that the group had been portraying through promo. There’s something about the guitar chord progressions and the synths that make these tracks sound right out of a spy movie. The tracks “Personal Prometheus” and “Postulous” serve a different purpose for adding atmosphere to the album. It’s almost as if they’re more representative of the alien drawing on the album. In a way, they make the album more mysterious.

The song “Theorem” sounds almost like a longer, alt-rock inspired version of a Tool interlude. The distorted vocals and sweeping synths don’t do the album much of a service, despite the cool guitar tones and drum sounds on this track. “UPGrade” is an interesting change of pace, with some of the most unique synth tones on the entire record, with another great display of chemistry between Keenan and Round.

On the last leg of the record we get “A Singularity,” a progressive and slowly chugging song. Its artificiality mixed with some heavily distorted guitar create an incredibly heavy and epic song. “Fake Affront” is the most in-your-face song of the album, with Keenan and Round giving a sharp and direct delivery, in place of one that blends better with the synth pattern. “Bedlamite” is a decent closer, almost like the closing credit song on this movie of an album.

The albums overall timbre is mostly created by a Fairlight synthesizer, as Keenan explains on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast this past October: “There’s very specific sounds that come out of these, and there’s a learning curve to go with it … but the cool thing is it kinda paints you into a sonic corner, and then you start layering on that.” 

Its mix of synth patterns and instrumental elements create a very deep and cohesive record. While occasionally too obscure to understand, nothing on the record seems out of place or unnecessary. Its variety of approaches give the album its intended atmosphere: deep, mysterious and intriguing.


Maynard James Keenan and company create a sonically beautiful album with an intriguing and thematic approach.

4 stars