Review Summary: In Search Of: Greg Puciato
Figuring one’s own identity out is a crisis in of itself. To determine your personality as an artist, which inevitably acts as an extension and potential reflection of that self, is an equally messy affair. Whether or not the heart’s attached to the sleeve or buried under layers of concrete, whether or not the instruments are insanity incarnate or tamed practitioners—it’s an open question. It’s an inquiry Greg Puciato unintentionally stumbled across when bestowing upon the listening audience the world over with a 15-track, hour-plus foray into a solo career. For all the complaints that could be described about the imposing Child Soldier: Creator of God
, there is one truth above all: the record was ambitious. Now that he had finally attached his name and his name alone to a project, Puciato had gone spelunking in the cavernous well of Greg Puciato, attempting to corner the Dillinger frontman beyond the boundaries of his prior efforts. Influences were tossed about like a runaway toddler piloting a shopping cart, eagerly grabbing whatever shiny object caught the eye, and the ultimate result was a product that landed several hits alongside a handful of underdeveloped concepts. By all outward appearances, Mirrorcell
, the anticipated sophomore release, is a redefined expedition into the desires of a musician. Whereas Child Soldier
was a million stabs in the dark, Mirrorcell
is determination incarnate; with over twenty minutes and six songs trimmed off its predecessor, this latest output is a remarkably focused experience that builds upon the strengths of its designer. What ensues is an engaging odyssey through rocking tunes accompanied by Puciato’s trademark inclinations for darker soundscapes.
Of the experiments conducted on Child Soldier
, the band’s titular songwriter has specifically emphasized grungy guitar riffs, fuzzy bass lines, and gazey-infused trots into atmosphere. This is the prototypical alt-metal package that the 90s could offer, but with modern sensibilities attached. In this regard, Mirrorcell
is an impressively complete offering, featuring arrangements that base themselves off of a defined idea, escort it to a thrilling payoff, then gracefully transition to the ensuing number. It’s possible for a Soundgarden-adjacent romp to collapse into a moody, ominous passage without feeling disingenuous. An excellent flow establishes the record as one that can stand beyond select singles, and special consideration is given into the textures and layers of songs. While the disc gradually reveals itself as a tale of two halves, the cohesion adhered to in the included genre motifs prevent them from being uneven; each has ample intrigue to provide, and the bridge between the two is outstandingly seamless. Those clamoring for unadulterated adrenaline rides can find comfort in the record’s opening four-song run, all of which carry sufficient aggression, swagger, and mood to make them unavoidably addicting. Anyone worried Puciato’s experimental leanings would disappear will find themselves similarly pleased by the closing four-song run that decreases the tempo, augments the oppressive temperament of the instrumentation, and thrives in the shadows. The tools and categories remain constant throughout, but how they are employed contributes to an awesome sense of consistency, with elements cooperating rather than conflicting.
As aforementioned, the hazy grunge aspects of Puciato’s work are what obtain the spotlight—small wonder when you consider his recent travels alongside Jerry Cantrell. A slow burner ala “Never Wanted That” lovingly adorns itself with an Alice in Chains aesthetic that paints a suitably despairing portrait, the song’s protagonist mourning the decay of a relationship from the house he’s left alone in. Meanwhile, there is the devastating power of “No More Lives to Go,” where the impetus of the track is a crunching guitar riff paired alongside a pounding bass, each made all the more menacing by Puciato’s sinister voice. When the scratchy melody clamoring for space in the background explodes into a massive chorus, the effect is stunning, its potency and Greg’s robust pipes generating a certified earworm. Step over the border into the second half in order to reckon with songs centered around an aura of despair and frustration. How these cuts attack the audience can vary; the despondency of “We” leans into sparse electronics and a distant guitar phrase, whereas “I, Eclipse” gains momentum off a thunderous bass that winds its way to an explosive finale. Indisputably the most rewarding of this dimmer sonic landscape is the massive “All Waves to Nothing.” The beginning leaps straight for the jugular at the behest of a crushing riff and Puciato losing his stability over the verses. As it progresses, however, the track evolves into a unique customer, shifting gears into delicate strumming that swells into a resonating melody. It’s an epic culmination that demonstrates the excitements Mirrorcell
Naturally, this being a solo excursion, plenty will be drawn completely based upon Puciato’s reputation as a purveyor of metalcore madness. As has been verified across his amassed discography of features and collectives, the frontman is certainly willing to attack different genres with his unwavering intensity. The manic vocals that populate the titanic eight-minute closer “All Waves to Nothing” are a vintage Greg-is-freaking-out moment, featuring a bevy of screams, shouts, growls, and plenty of other violent inflections. That chorus on “No More Lives to Go” doesn’t cause destruction the same way in the hands of another singer; the slight strain and threatening tone to Greg’s anthemic declarations sell the lyrics in such a genuine manner. Multiple separate examples demonstrate an admirable versatility. Lead single “Lowered” is a beautiful exhibition of a more vulnerable, emotional delivery that belts out the most memorable refrain of the disc, whereas the previously discussed “Never Wanted That” is a reserved, contemplative affair that explores a lower range. This is familiar territory for fans while also introducing something novel—something unmistakably by Puciato. He’s capable of disappearing into the ambiance of an entry or dominating it, which avoids the critical flaw of other solo acts: the solo artist upstaging the work. Rather than feeling contrived, the compositions here are codependent with Greg’s vocal talent rather than dependent (i.e. anything Johnny Craig touches). There is a great deal of care imbued into Mirrorcell
in order to make it a vehicle for more than one element in particular.
A handful of external contributions enhance Mirrorcell
beyond its already tremendous base potential. Of primary note is the nuanced drumming of Chris Hornbrook—a founding member of Poison the Well. There is a subtle complexity to what Hornbrook offers in his repertoire of rhythms and how he covertly transforms songs, quietly expanding the environment of a tune and sneaking in delightful fills. The bombastic “Lowered” would be incomplete if not for the inclusion of Code Orange’s Reba Myers—the only other vocal feature on the album—whose unique tone pairs off perfectly with Puciato, generating brilliant harmonies and heightening the intensity of the tune’s crescendo during the bridge. Beyond the praiseworthy production job of Steve Evetts and Alan Douches’ mastering, everything else is a direct consequence of Puciato’s knack for clever, heavy, yet perfectly accessible songwriting. By sorting through the scattered innards of Child Soldier
, the compelling ideas lurking underneath it have been permitted to emerge. If there was any doubt that his artistic vision couldn’t be contained, Mirrorcell
is the rebuttal; the successes of the past are improved in every regard, and narrowing down the variables into a focused LP ironically leaves appreciators longing for more. This is the sound of an artist embarking upon a profound reflection, thematically and technically, and slowly uncovering the opus they’re searching for. Somewhere in the middle of it all is who Greg Puciato intends to be in a post-Dillinger world: unambiguously himself, harsh edges and all, but slowly becoming a mainstream force to reckon with. Radio could be saved overnight by these hits.