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      Existential Reckoning

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      Amidst societal strife and global pandemic, Maynard James Keenan returns with the most personal and human of his three main bands, reviving Puscifer with the group's fourth official full-length, Existential Reckoning. As the title suggests, this time things are more serious than usual and the core trio of Keenan, Carina Round, and Mat Mitchell crafted a politically charged takedown of the state of the world circa 2020. Although Reckoning stands as one of the most subdued -- and least sophomoric -- Puscifer albums, it swaps out their usual hallmarks in favor of substance and emotion, resulting in their tightest and most thematically focused output to date. Drowning in dread, frustration, and anxiety, the journey falls between Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' introspective film scores and something that could soundtrack The X-Files in another dimension. The band also pepper the effort with touches of Bowie's spaced-out glam, Kraftwerk's robotic detachment, and Reznor and Ross' work as Nine Inch Nails and How to Destroy Angels. Droning electronic atmospherics wash over the not-so-subtle "Bread and Circus," which sets the tone as Keenan chides the population for trading its "voice...lifeā€¦[and] self-sovereignty" for cheap thrills and distractions. As the beat pulses with mechanical precision and the bass slinks along, Keenan and Round trade vocals over a slowly building buzz that eventually bleeds into the album's central concept, "Apocalyptical." Atop guitar groove and industrial percussion, Keenan growls, "Be damned, dumb.../Go on, moron, ignore the evidence," morphing into a twisted dystopian version of a Willy Wonka Oompa Loompa. Without mincing words, he calls out a populace that's content with manipulation and disinformation, ignoring facts and reality to its own detriment. This notion continues straight to the end, from highlights like the throbbing "The Underwhelming" to the aggressive "Fake Affront." After an album's worth of critical observation, Puscifer offer a surprising glimmer of hope with "Bedlamite," which toasts "our remarkable resilience to calamity" as Keenan soothes, "Everything will be alright." Although lacking the silly and immature content found in their early output, the group retain their cheeky spirit, using that irreverence to process a society on the verge of collapse in a manner that's still uniquely Puscifer. As the world burns, Keenan and company hold a mirror to the calamity, forcing us to face reality and figure out a way to move forward.

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