Review Summary: Due to its greater focus on tight songwriting and engrossing melodies, “Conditions Of My Parole” fuses art rock with industrial to compelling effect.
As legendary and controversial as he may be, Maynard James Keenan seems quite difficult to pinpoint. His vocals have been downright phenomenal in Tool, almost equally amazing in A Perfect Circle. However, the first album of his industrial project formed together with Nine Inch Nail's Danny Lohner occurred to be a huge letdown. Puscifer's “V Is For Vagina” was filled with numerous sexual allusions that didn't amount to anything but a pile of misguided beats struggling to find any trace of meaning in the overly abstract presentation. In fact, the album was so horrid that it almost felt like a twisted joke that Keenan made on his devoted fans who expected another stroke of genius or at least a record that would have some merit.
Thankfully, Puscifer's sophomore full-length disc manages to pleasantly surprise. For a change, “Conditions Of My Parole” is a cohesive collection of songs that feel entirely focused and mostly serious (contrary to the album's cover). What Keenan himself described as “Twin Peaks in the desert” is an art rock record with some strong leanings towards electronica. Actually, the whole affair sounds just like a heavily industrialized version of the second A Perfect Circle album, “Thirteenth Step.” For instance, “The Weaver” shares exactly the same breezy, laid-back approach with “Weak And Powerless,” while the title track bears a striking resemblance to more succinct rockers out of the aforementioned disc.
“Conditions Of My Parole” revolves around the atmosphere of mystery abandoning nearly completely heavy guitar riffs as well as structural experiments. The album's also much lighter in tone than any of Keenan's previous offerings. Opener “Tiny Monsters” perfectly sets the tone with its ambient use of keys that coexist with subtle beats and sparse guitar licks in the chilling climax. “Green Valley” is significantly more engaging with its soothing vocal interplay between Keenan and Carina Round who additionally compliments the singer on numerous other cuts to great effect. The songs that combine tender melodies with steady, trip-hop beats and ambient passages prevail on the entire disc forming a distinct aura that's both dreamy and ethereal.
The most memorable moments come with far edgier and more abrasive tracks though. “Telling Ghosts” offers an unexpected, yet totally welcome change of pace with its adventurous dynamic shifts. Its soft, art-rock verses have been juxtaposed with a scorching, though infectious howl in which Kennan viciously proclaims: “ The more you take, the more you need/The more you suck, the more you bleed/The dead know better, so listen to the letter...” This isn't a sole relatively heavy industrial passage on the record. “Toma” oozes with straightforward Nine Inch Nails references that happen to be tailor-made for Keenan's hypnotic vocal harmonies. “The Rapture” also stands out due to its own blend of futuristic guitars, pummeling bass lines and refreshing sound design being coupled with truly affecting lyrics.
“Conditions Of My Parole” cannot exactly be regarded as a flawless album. Keenan's strong reliance on ambiance results in some less-than-stellar, meandering, near indie pop songs in “Monsoons” and “Oceans.” Moreover, it's apparent that several tracks don't quite live up to their full potential. They just constantly build up often lacking in any form of catharsis or climax. In other words, the songwriting could have been much more effective as well as adventurous given how rarely the music goes beyond a conventional verse-chorus-bridge formula. These shortcomings don't overshadow the most valid point though. Puscifer definitely heads into the right musical direction which showcases a greater focus on song craft and an expanding use of melody. The album's chief asset is its inclination to evoke genuine, frequently compelling emotions.