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Album Review

Puscifer – ‘Existential Reckoning: Re-Wired’ [Album Review]

Puscifer’s ‘Existential Reckoning: Re-Wired (Alchemy Recordings, BMG) is definitely one of the better remix albums of recent years. The additional effort pays off in a more diverse, insightful auditory journey.



Puscifer ‘Existential Reckoning: Re-Wired’ album artwork

As far back as bardic and skaldic traditions predating written notation, the act of reinterpretation has been a staple in music. Fast forward to the ‘classical’ era, and this becomes formalized under the banner term ‘variations.’ Many composers have been known to use this as a compositional tactic in their own work, such as Chopin’s “Nocturne in F Minor,” that so effectively returns to its introductory phrase later as a reworked, re-imagined passage of far greater depth and complexity. But then there are also multiple instances of composers reinterpreting the work of others, too: such as Mozart’s 1785 mediation of “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” (“Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” to use its ‘official’ name). In 1819, Anton Diabelli went so far as to encourage other composers to give one of his waltzes this treatment – resulting in no less than 33 submissions by Beethoven himself.

Dub and ska embraced this in the late 1960s and 1970s to inject new rhythms into dancefloors, but it really is only in the digital era that producers could really get to grips with the remix: from hip-hop to industrial to techno and beyond, mediated, interpreted production became the norm. And it wasn’t just an independent exercise, either: Michael Jackson’s 1997 Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix is still credited as the best-selling remix album of all time, with well over two and a half million units sold – closely followed by Madonna’s 1987 You Can Dance.

Agent-in-Training Dick Merkin (AKA Keenan) delivers a typically Puscifer-esque sitrep on the state of the new remix album and its associated tour.

However, it’s in the left field that remix albums really come into their own, with faithful and authentic revisions making remix albums as good – and sometimes better – than their original versions. Consider Fear Factory’s Remanufacture (1996) or Linkin Park’s Reanimation (2002) as cases in point. Or even the panoply of Remix Wars EPs Metropolis Records used to plug their roster of EBM producers – from FunkerVogt to Frontline Assembly to :wumpscut: and more. And Puscifer is one band that has made the remix album part of their musical DNA: “V” is for Viagra, “D” is for Dubby and “C” is for (Please Insert Sophomoric Genitalia Reference Here) were all shockingly good takes on the 2007 “V” is for Vagina album. As such, the remix album of their most recent album, Existential Reckoning (reviewed here), should come as no surprise.

What is surprising is just how damn good it is.

The original Existential Reckoning record was a delight, a well-paced, nuanced and thoughtful narrative exploration. The Existential Reckoning: Re-Wired version is something Derrida would have marvelled at: a deconstruction and summary re-engineering from the ground up, a tale that grows in the telling, featuring some seriously big hitters in the music industry. As well as contributions from current members and touring musicians of Puscifer, notable inclusions are Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Troy van Leeuwen making his mark alongside Tony Hajjar on a more atmospheric take on “Grey Area,” while Alessandro Cortini (live keyboards for Nine Inch Nails) turns the latter half of “Bullet Train to Iowa” into a brooding, post-industrial dystopian soundscape. Tool’s Justin Chancellor and The Crystal Method’s Scott Kirkland join forces to deliver a dancey, trip-hop laced and flippant “UPGrade,” and New York electro-rock duo Phantogram convert “Postulous” into one of the strangest (and that’s REALLY saying something), most hypnotic Puscifer songs I’ve had the pleasure of listening to.

If you don’t believe me about “Postulous,” listen (and watch) for yourself.

The big sell, of course, is Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross taking a break from Oscar-winning soundtracks to offer up their own take on “Apocalyptical” – which, unsurprisingly, translates into something like a Nine Inch Nails song featuring Maynard James Keenan on guest vocals, replete with the typical drum sounds and synth stabs we’ve expected since The Downward Spiral in 1994.

Overall, though, this is definitely one of the better remix albums I’ve listened to: yes, there is the disconnect in styles between individual cuts, but each collaborator offers something unique, adding to the final mix rather than lessening the impact of the original. It’s not as seamless a listening experience as Existential Reckoning offered, but the additional effort pays off in a more diverse, insightful auditory journey.

Puscifer frontwoman Corina Round’s version of “A Singularity.” The beauty of this particular visualization is that it’s just one in a number of ‘fan’ submissions – there’s even one by Keenan’s own daughter, Lei Li.

Existential Reckoning: Re-Wired Track Listing:

1. Bread and Circus (Re-imagined by Mat Mitchell)
2. Apocalyptical (Re-imagined by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross)
3. The Underwhelming (Re-imagined by Juliette Commagere)
4. Grey Area (Re-imagined by Troy Van Leeuwen & Tony Hajjar)
5. Theorem (Re-imagined by Sarah Jones & Jordan Fish)
6. UPGrade (Re-imagined by Justin Chancellor & Scott Kirkland)
7. Bullet Train To Iowa (Re-imagined by Alessandro Cortini)
8. Personal Prometheus (Re-imagined by Greg Edwards)
9. A Singularity (Re-imagined by Carina Round)
10. Postulous (Re-imagined by Phantogram)
11. Fake Affront (Re-imagined by Gunnar Olsen)
12. Bedlamite (Re-imagined by Daniel P. Carter)

Run Time: 1:05:20
Release Date: March 31, 2023
Record Label: Puscifer Entertainment/Alchemy Recordings/BMG

This is Dayv. He writes stuff and makes being an aging goth cool again. Actually, nobody can do the latter, so let's just stick to him writing stuff. Predominantly about black metal, tattoos and other essential cultural necessities. He also makes pretty pictures, but that's just to pay the bills.