Artist: Greg Puciatio
Album:Child Soldier: Creator of God
Label: Federal Prisoner
Release Date: 01/10/2020 (leaked early prior to original 23/10/2020 date)
Country: United States
Like many who saw The Dillinger Escape Plan live, I’ve had the opportunity to unwittingly come face-to-face with Greg Puciato. In my case it was as he hung upside down from the ceiling of Norwich’s Waterfront venue, only inches above the ferocious pit, sometime in the winter of 2010/11 during the Option Paralysis tour cycle. It’s perhaps not the normal way of coming face-to-face with the singer of a band, but then Greg Puciato is hardly a normal type of performer. This is his first solo album, although since the demise of Dillinger he has been involved with the metal super-group Killer Be Killed, and the electronica group The Black Queen; two vastly different bands connected only by the intensity and passion that Puciato brings.
Impressively, Puciato performs every instrument on this record barring drums, for which he recruited Converge’s Ben Koller, Poison The Well’s Chris Hornbrook, and original Dillinger drummer Chris Pennie; a trio of sticksmen that any performer in hardcore and metal should be envious of.
One of the notable things about Dillinger as their career progressed was how their songwriting developed; moving from the stunning chaos of their first two records, to the more experimental and tuneful writing in their third and fourth albums, and the more nuanced and hook-driven sound of their final two albums. It’s obvious from listening to Child Soldier: Creator of God how much Puciato must have had to do with this progression, because within this album are the same kind of elemental song-writing styles. However, the diversity of sounds and tones is equal to, if not bigger, than anything Dillinger did.
Heaven Of Stone is a gentle acoustic number that could have come straight out of Conor Oberst or Justin Vernon’s songbook and really acts as an introduction track. As is often the case on this album we have to take a significant left turn for the next song, Creator Of God, which is an industrial infused electro number, full of rhythmic bass pulses and crashing beats. There are some particularly nuanced ambient parts here too, overlaid with Puciato’s soft breathy vocals. I’ve barely had time to take all this in though before it goes all Merzbow on us, a hailstorm of white noise tearing through the speakers for the final minute and a half. It segues into Fire For Water, which sounds like Dillinger at their most avant-garde. Puciato’s vocals are in his familiar full throttle screamed style, and there are ripping mathy guitar riffs that couple perfectly with the restless drums.
Deep Set is an old-school post-punk/industrial number, very Killing Joke in style with it’s nefarious bass lines, angular guitar riffs and vivid drums. Puciato goes into creepy goth mode, repeating lines about “your deep set eyes” with a terrifyingly intense timbre. Another shift in gear occurs as we move into the calming but catchy Temporary Object; it’s almost all electronic instrumentation here, but there’s a certain rock vibe to it that cuts through the ambient EDM structures. The delicate vocal hook in the chorus is pretty addictive, Puciato really showing his versatility here – out of context you would never imagine this was the same guy who hung upside down screaming bloody murder above me all those years ago. Fireflies continues in a similar mode, but with a little more of a chilled Nine Inch Nails sound to it, another massive hook coming in the form of the chorus synth line.
Do You Need Me To Remember is a rollercoaster of dynamism, starting off like an early Earth track before smashing us in the face with some sludge riffs and then a huge pop-rock chorus. It sounds like something Mastodon would have written in their most exciting days, the riffs are totally crushing and yet superbly catchy. Once again there’s no let up from the subversive nature of this record, as the final minute and a half is a picturesque dark ambient soundscape overlaid with some cavernous harsh vocals. It leads straight into Roach Hiss which has some experimental Dillinger style vibes combined with the aforementioned Killing Joke-esque sound. The riff is in an odd time signature but still grooves away, the guitars are grating and noisey, and Puciato’s vocals are both brutal and swaggering.
Down When I’m Not is something of a singular moment on the album but it’s a really remarkable one. It sounds like a 90s shoegaze band like Ride or Slowdive playing some 2000s era pop-punk/post-hardcore a la Taking Back Sunday or Jimmy Eat World; and I mean that in a really good way. It’s a total curveball, but it’s absolutely terrific. You Know I Do is a gentle and hugely atmospheric song; a variety of melancholic guitar lines lead the track, while behind it droning synths build a frosty environment for Puciato to wearily croon over. At times it has a vibe akin to The XX or London Grammar, futuristic synth sounds gently weaving their way in between organic instruments to create a night time city atmosphere.
Through The Walls has a little more of that post-hardcore/emo vibe again in the main melody and the lyrics, although it’s actually the kind of soft acoustic number that would have made a great closer on an Underoath or Saosin album circa 2004/5. Of course though Puciato can’t go too long without playing around with things, the track carefully and rather unexpectedly transforms into a romantic reggae number for it’s final moments. A Pair Of Questions is the biggest pop number on this album and could easily have come from Passion Pit or Grimes. The Japanese electro-pop style synth lines are the perfect set up for the best hook on the album. Puciato has legitimately made a huge pop tune, but there’s still room for some off kilter guitar leads and fuzzy bass to enter towards the end.
Evacuation is another Nine Inch Nails style number, a few of these synth lines sound like they’ve been taken directly from The Perfect Drug. There’s some big metallic guitars overlaying the techno soundtrack, and Puciato performs a cracking good-cop/bad-cop vocal number. Just to add to the experimental nature of everything on this record, there’s some vocal sounds in here which could be either Inuit throat singing or Sami Joik singing (sampled, I assume – unless Puciato has really diversified his vocal talents!). Heartfree is a real showcase of Puciato’s singing ability, his soulful vocals becoming almost operatic at points. It’s backed by a moody and rather beautiful post-metal instrumental, but some of the vocal hooks also recall those emo vibes again; I could easily hear Anthony Green or Geoff Rickly singing these melodies in a similar fashion.
The final track September City is a gorgeous and very ambient track led by a slow and sombre piano line, Puciato utilising his quiet breathy tones brilliantly once again. Some guitar kicks in to give us a tuneful solo before the track breaks down and rebuilds itself, this time with a subtle tribal beat that grows into the instrumental. Of course, you didn’t expect things would remain like this did you? Of course not! Around the half-way mark everything changes, guitars and bass come crashing in over some excellent drums, and Puciato leaves behind the soft vocals for what he does best – bold and confident singing and throat destroying screams. The tune is a perfect way to finish the album, leaving us a very memorable hook to depart with.
This is an absolute monster of a record; a sprawling, diverse, uninhibited album that shows an artist who is utterly fearless. Puciato writes whatever songs he wants to, regardless of any notions of genre consistency, so it’s a good thing he is remarkably brilliant at all of it. The record takes a little while to hit it’s full stride, and inevitably there are a few songs which fade a little in the memory, but there are some incredible songs here too that will completely rid any conceptions of what the former Dillinger frontman should be about. If it hadn’t already been apparent before this album, it is clear now that Greg Puciato is a phenomenal talent, and this record feels like a telescopic vision into his eclectic musical soul. It’s not always an easy listen, but it’s truly worth it!
Listen to the full album below:
Watch music videso for the album’s singles here: