Greg Puciato is one of the greatest frontmen in twenty-first century metal – a modern-day Mike Patton if you like. Fronting the best band of the last two decades allowed him to demonstrate the awesome range and character of his voice and influenced countless other musicians. When Dillinger Escape Plan split up in 2017, it left a void in the music scene. This means a solo release from Greg is a big event in the calendar. Nothing is off limits in his artistic mind, and nothing will persuade him to follow the latest trends in extreme music. Basically, Greg does whatever he wants, and we like that.
The chances are you were already expecting an eclectic album with a wide array of styles and genres, but Child Soldier might baffle even the most battle-hardened noise enthusiasts among you. On first listen, few songs follow a discernible structure with choruses or engaging melodies. Aggression is the defining feature in the first half of the record but absent in the latter half. At times you feel like you’re participating in an ambient noise experiment, other times marvelling at the rumbling bass lines. On some songs you might think you’re tuning into the lighter moments of the Smashing Pumpkins classic, Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness. What the hell is going on?
To make sense of things, it’s best to see this record as two sides. Side A is Greg doing his bad cop routine. Side B is Greg in his good cop phase. Everything from track one to eight bristles with unpredictability and exuberant aggression with the odd moment of melodic brilliance. ‘Creator of God’ starts with a Nine Inch Nails glitch with trippy synth patterns and reverb-heavy vocal croons over the top of ambient background atmospherics. Yet this false calm ends in the last two minutes of the song, which can only be described as an imminent malfunction. Incinerating noise effects and fearsome engine drones attack your ear drums like fighter jets taking off from an aircraft carrier. It’s a strange way to end the title-track of an album but quite mesmerising in its intensity.
Dillinger fans will jump for joy at the alternation between clean vocals and hardcore rage on ‘Fire for Water’ and ‘Deep Set’, both of which draw on heavy bass chugs and groove metal drums and take inspiration from the angry self-reflection of early Swans. The anxious pulse of Trent Reznor is never far away, yet standout track, ‘Temporary Object’, ditches the grimy noise for the incandescent keyboards and synths. Now this is a fucking tune, brother! Much is made of Greg’s love of Depeche Mode, but this is more Tears For Fears with a neo-falsetto chorus and captivating Björk soundscape. You can envisage Periphery doing something like this on their next record.
It’s fair to ask where the metal is among the minefield of different sounds. The answer is never far away on side A. ‘Do You Need Me to Remind You?’ and ‘Roach Hiss’ thrive on the aggressive alt-metal of mid-90s Faith No More and incorporate a welcome Tesseract vibe. Guitars darken the mood with ringing doom chords and unsettle the experience even further with deliberate off-key solos. If it ended at track eight, we’d have a contender for album of the decade, never mind year. But, alas, we get to side B.
Hmmm. Side B. The change comes with ‘Down When I’m Not’. Why on earth Greg includes a song that mixes the power pop of The Wannadies with Dinosaur Jr is a mystery. It shifts the mood of the entire record on a whim and fails on every level. You’ll scowl but overlook it in the hope the next song picks up the pace. Unfortunately, this does not happen. The next four songs fall into a slow-tempo introspection of vocal croons and soft drum machines. As individual compositions, all have merit but seem sluggish in consecutive order. This is a shame because ‘You Know I Do’ and ‘Through the Walls’ take the Smashing Pumpkins brilliance of Adore and give Greg a platform to demonstrate the hypnotic intimacy of his voice. ‘A Pair of Questions’ is a sequel to ‘Temporary Object’ but never reaches the highs of the album’s greatest track. The discerning listeners among you will appreciate the Neil Tennant/ Pet Shop Boys melancholy and might even smile at the staccato MIDI strings that recall the sophisticated early-90s pop of Annie Lennox. Remember, we said nothing is off limits, right?
It may be a strange dip in tempo on side B, but Greg does not let the lack of aggression spoil the momentum with the last three songs. ‘Evacuation’ is an electro-rock banger like Depeche Mode on performance enhancing drugs. This is Greg at his hip-swaying best, full of heavy whispers and explosive roars of “How could it all be?” over the top of an 80s woodwind keyboard sample. By the time we reach ‘September City’ it all makes sense, like a long run through the bridleways and backfields of rural England. It’s a demanding experience but one that brings exhilaration and relief. You know you’ll do it again at the same time next week until your body can no longer take it. Faint tom drums and minimalist piano notes carry Greg’s plea of “stay here forever” like autumn leaves ascending in the wind.
This could have been the album of the year but for an unusual drop in tempo after the half-way point. But there is much to admire and plenty to dissect. Learn to experience this record as two halves and it will satisfy your expectations. Greg’s back, baby. Greg’s back.
Release Date: 23/10/2020
Record Label: Federal Prisoner
Standout tracks: Fire for Water, Temporary Object, Do You Need Me to Remind You?
Suggested Further Listening: Godflesh – Pure (1992), Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness (1995), Faith No More – King for a Day… Fool for a Lifetime (1995)