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A Full Review of Puscifer’s New Album, “Existential Awakening”

Read Time:10 Minute, 45 Second

Revealed through a leaked redacted government file, Arizona-based electro-rock trio, Puscifer, uncovers a fourth full-length studio album, where we are led into the desert to find the missing Billy D, and maybe uncover the truth about aliens as we know it, once and for all.

While being renowned for blurring the lines of theatrics and music performance, the band has created a truly interactive experience over the last ten years, with more promises to only improve from there. Tomorrow, they will be streaming live at Arcosanti, famous for its sci-fi architecture in the middle of the desert, for their most ambitious interactive experience to date. “Imagine if you were an extra-terrestrial traveler,” vocalist Maynard James Keenan explains in the official livestream trailer, “and you landed somewhere in the US, say in the southwest, and you wanted some place to blend in. This would probably be a good place to do that.”

Last Friday, Maynard chatted with Joe Rogan about the upcoming album, misinformation in mainstream media, the location, and future plans for the project. Listen to it in full here.

Depicting a heavily layered, hypnotic blend of sounds, and featuring craftwork of Maynard, Carina Round, and Mat Mitchell, and nostalgic synthesizers and classic rock elements, the album is nothing short of brilliant. As it features its main characters, Hildy Berger, Major Douche, special agents Dick Merkin, and much more, they depict a story of the missing Billy D, who was last seen with a bottle of wine and a mysterious briefcase.

The confidential file continues as follows: “In a frantic call-to-arms, instigated by Billy D’s loving wife, Hildy Berger, The Agents of Puscifer sprang into action. Rumors of Alien abduction were at the forefront throughout the dark web chatter. And therefore traditional methods of tracking a lost and hopeless drunkard in a dirty leisure suit were not an option. Special Agents Mat Mitchell, Carina Round, and Agent-In-Training Maynard Keenan a.k.a. “Dick Merkin, hypothesized the only way to locate their subject was to construct traversable bridges between intuition and technology. The agents surmised that by exploring the metaphorical mycelium between Math and Passion, Art and Order, and Hope and Proof, they would be able to pinpoint the exact location of both Billy D and the mysterious briefcase. As with anything involving Billy D, it would not be easy…”

While providing the early use of computer technology in their recordings, the trio states that it provided just the warmth and distinct sound it needed to discover the patterns of Billy D’s movements and hidden messages using “rare and oversized synthesizers”. Agent Round was committed in her harmonizing efforts, using her voice to call out to Billy and reach out to the extra-terrestrials who are holding him captive.

Transcribed, translated, and edited for clarity, the Agents of Puscifer share some of the details of their mission as they share their personal accounts. Special Agent Round and Maynard both spoke in code to close in on the location of Billy D, chasing the sound before extraterrestrial energy consumes the two of them and Agent Mitchell.

As for what happens throughout the mission, we will have to decode the twelve tracks of Existential Reckoning to know what happens.

Starting us off with “Bread and Circus,” the three Agents of Puscifer fill us with an environment of synthesizers and haunting vocals. “Here we are/in the middle of our existential reckoning.” The title of the track alludes to an idiom penned by Roman poet, Juvenal after the begin of the Roman Empire. In keeping the population satisfied, and in some cases distracted, the Roman government held regular spectacles and distributed free food. The writer saw this as nothing but superficiality, a temporary appeasement, while the true satisfaction is found in more substantial methods. Ingeniously woven in code messages, Puscifer talks of superficiality in temporary satisfactions in attempts to awaken something more in their audience than simply seeking to appease the extra-terrestrials holding Billy D.

Next, “Apocalyptical,” provides us details of the mission Puscifer has embarked on as they leaked footage in their music video, while discussing the toxicity in manipulation of information in modern culture. Maynard discusses this further in an interview, “Manipulated information disseminated by kings, queens, dictators, so called leaders, supposed professionals or outliers & conspiracy theorists living underground, or in basements, is not new or unique to this generation. Misdirection is Power Struggles’ conjoined twin but the speed at which it now travels in this digital age is dangerous and destructive on many levels. This rapid distribution of poison and its immediate impact will be the hallmark of our generation. Even in light of all this, and all the noise the digital landscape generates, all I keep asking myself is ‘what is it with the whole hoarding toilet paper thing?’” Our modern world seems awfully apocalyptic, where in these times, simple amenities are harder to access, and the world as we know it has suddenly changed. Whether we will grow past this new level of fear and stop taking in everything technology manipulates us into seeing, the Agents of Puscifer state that we need to ignore the noise of the digital and seek out the truth.

While admittedly reflecting on the current state of our world, “Apocalyptical” and the next track, “The Underwhelming” delves much further than the pandemic, inspiring further awareness of surroundings, conscious of what’s occurring around you, finding enlightenment, and reacting appropriately in the situation. Rather than seeking nothing but the surface, “The Underwhelming,” inspires having the difficult conversations again, even with people you don’t agree with, to determine your own opinion, instead of leaning into the mainstream and what technology is feeding you.

Continuing with this theme, “Grey Area 5.1” discusses finding your own opinion in this digital age, while Agent Carina Round and Maynard lure us in with their harmonizing vocals. “Theorem,” ropes us in with the mathematical, and geometrical aspect in seeking out Billy D. By definition, a theorem is a general proposition proved by a chain of reasoning and means of accepted truths. The Special Agents seek out the truth, understanding of the world around them,  and share their process in discovering the location of Billy while seeking out an appeal to the extra-terrestrials in its synchronicity and vocals that blend together in a hypnotic experience of sound. And as you can begin to see, Puscifer’s music has become more than a telling of the agents on a mission, but in seeking out understanding of the world around us as we face many types of crisis and chaos in a world hyper-sensationalized by technology. The fact that we happen to be in a pandemic, as well, does not help the situation.

In an interview with Kerrang! Maynard describes Billy D. as much more than a character in their story. He is “representative of the people in the middle who remember that we’re not each other’s enemies. Of the divisive nature of the interweb, as it were, where every conversation starts with an argument. Anybody who wears that hat is Billy D. We exist; we co-exist, and are trying to figure out a way to navigate this whole thing. We know there are monsters in the world, but what does that have to do with this conversation I’m having with you right now? That’s the attitude” (1).

“UPGrade,” progresses throughout the track with the idea that resetting or upgrading the state of mind. The voice of Agent Round mechanically fills the track in the bridge, explaining the song in further detail; “this update contains important information that may resolve any cognitive or processing issues you may be experiencing…” The leaked confidential transmission, describing the Agents of Puscifer and their mission, implies that for her safety in the mission, Carina Round’s memory was wiped and reset; for whatever reason, we do not know. In “UPGrade,” we gain a better understanding of the occurrence, but the reasons why are left up to the listener in its continued cryptic message.

“Bullet Train to Iowa” inspires spreading wings into flight, change, and growth, and not looking back. In a mission into discovery and growth, sometimes in our journey of life, all we need to do is sit back and enjoy the ride, and others, we need to forget our arrogance and set-in ways, and fly away from it.

“Personal Prometheus” is by far the most hypnotic track on the album, embodying musical aspects a bit like Maynard’s other project, Tool, all while cooling its audience into a trance of harmony and a story of hypocricy in religion—where many involved control their own gods like puppets on a string toward their own personal agenda, all while their gods by definition are supposedly out there to help them succeed. An example lies in the Greek myth of Prometheus, the Titan god of fire who created humanity and defied the other gods’ agenda by helping them find civilization and warmth by stealing fire and giving it to the humans. Today, humanity has seemed to become lost in their hatred and arrogance, using their gods to gain advantages over others.

The next track, “A Singularity,” is a message to humanity—while discussing the possibility of where artificial intelligence and technology becomes so advanced that there is no going back—there is still a chance to stop this kind of progression. As technology progresses, we only seem to be losing ourselves more in it, and before it’s too late to turn back, it is becoming more crucial to not give in to the distraction and its temporary dopamine-charged effects, we need to take a step back and reflect on our actions toward “progress” and improving in our technology.

There is so much noise out there, and it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. Existential Reckoning aims to not only tell the story of the search and rescue mission of Billy D. from extra-terrestrial life, but to attempt to tell the message that you cannot allow the noise to influence your life and understanding. Surround yourself with people you can trust, not from the sensationalized, “dopamine-dumped” distractions in technology.

The information we get in technology is overly processed and only reaches the surface of the conversation. Technology seeks to self-inflict with nothing but poison and keeps others from having the civil conversation face to face. Technology is self-destruction where people are sucked into it, hiding behind a screen as an anonymous coward, where no side that you pick in biased news sources and overly processed mainstream media wins. In a time of quarantine, we are forced to stay inside, live with the anxiety and fear, face the existential angst and chaos, and default to technology as the source of human connection. Puscifer’s Existential Reckoning contains all these feelings in their cryptic tracks, all while providing the ultimate experience in storytelling.

The next track, “Postulous,” continues with the theme of the spreading disease of technology, describing it much like pustules, or infected lesions. Following this, “Fake Affront” stands alone in its sound with blaring electric guitar, Agent Round’s skilled vocals, and the wide open and raw message against hatred; who are nothing but fakes, trying to justify their actions by choosing a side and pointing fingers at the other side, and claiming self-virtue and piety in being “far right” or “far left.” In the interview with Joe Rogan, Maynard states that both sides are the same in their actions; especially when paired with the actions in hiding behind a screen. He states that he and other individuals he knows are just trying to take a step back, and take things by stride. In seeking out real, substantial conversations with others, especially after starting his business in the wine industry, he’s found that no matter what walk of life you come from, you have the ability to discuss and connect with any party as long as you retain an open mind.

Concluding the album, the final recording, “Bedlamite” tells us one thing for certain; Agent Keenan says that “it’s gonna be all right,” encouraging hope despite the chaos we face in our world today. As humanity faces these growing pains, the quakes embodying an age of destruction, we can choose to reflect on mistakes, open our perspectives, and inspire growth and change.

Join the band tomorrow as they go live at Arcosanti, providing a visual experience of the album in its entirety. Tickets are available at pusciferlive.com, and will celebrate the release of Existential Reckoning at 3pm PST.

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