The quartet of lead singer/lyricist Maynard James Keenan, guitarist Adam Jones, bassist Justin Chancellor, and drummer Danny Carey have been around since 1990 and are consistently ranked among the top ten metal bands of all time. If you narrow that down to post-1980s metal bands, Tool will usually be at the top of folks’ lists. The most incredible thing about Tool is that they’ve accomplished all of this with only four albums.
In 28 years.
These guys are my favorite metal band because of that statistic, not in spite of it.
They take…. their fucking…. time. And it’s always worth it. All four of their albums have gone platinum and are masterpieces in their own way, but there’s little consensus among fans or critics about which is their best work; they’re all just so damn good.
These dudes are perfectionists in every sense of the word, and one usually gets the feeling that, like most perfectionists, their standards are so high for selfish reasons rather than altruistic ones; they give much less of a shit what you happen to think of their art than what they think of their art. Fans have been foaming at the mouth since their most recent offering, 10,000 Days, was released in 2006.
Tool has an incredibly distinct and immediately recognizable sound, and they keep this sound intact at all times. To my knowledge, there isn’t a single Tool song that features a piano, an acoustic guitar, or vocals from anyone but Maynard. They know what they do, they do it better than anyone else, and they don’t stray from it. Their music is already experimental and unlike anything else out there; they have no need to constantly reinvent themselves by trying new things because they are a new thing; they were revolutionary when they first got together, and they still are today, after almost three decades or creative cooperation.
That being said, it’s clear that Maynard’s musical genius and innovation have the potential to expand far beyond Tool’s distinct sonic signature. We all know this, and Maynard knew it too.
So…. Puscifer. Along with A Perfect Circle, Puscifer is one of Maynard’s two musical side projects. To me, the reason Puscifer is so intriguing (and so damn fun) is that it’s pure Maynard; you get a sense of what he’s capable of doing all by himself when given free reign, as well as a greater appreciation for what the other three members of Tool bring to the table.
The first song I heard from Puscifer was The Mission (M is for Milla Mix), a track that’s catchy as fuck and features vocals from both Maynard and Milla Jovovich of the Resident Evil films.
From there I explored the project, which Maynard has described as “a revolving door of talented people”, further. The more I listened, the clearer it became that Puscifer is the exact opposite of Tool in terms of style and vision; this is Maynard’s playground. He can bring in any musicians he wanted to collaborate with (after all, who’s gonna turn down the opportunity to work with Tool’s frontman?), experiment with any particular sub-genre, and use whatever instruments he sees fit. If you’ve gotten this far and haven’t explored Puscifer much or at all, stop right here, and listen to the following songs, just to give you an idea of just how eclectic Puscifer’s sound is:
They can slow it down or speed it up, make it soft and ethereal or fast-paced and gritty, hauntingly beautiful or aggressively profane. For me, Puscifer was the proof of what I’d thought for a long time, namely that Maynard James Keenan the type of musical and lyrical genius of which each generation only gets a handful. He’s not just a one-trick pony like so many artists.
I might catch a lot of shit for drawing this comparison, but in a lot of ways he’s similar to Kanye West. Whatever you think about West as a person, he’s been praised by Elton John, Prince, Michael Jackson, and countless others for his creativity and his absolute refusal to be confined to any particular genre or even artform. He’s made old-school hip-hop, R&B, industrial rap, and even gospel. He’s collaborated with everyone from Daft Punk to Paul McCartney, and he’s never made an album that critics and/or fans didn’t love. MJK is the same way; everything he touches turns to artistic gold, he’s smart enough to realize this, and so he puts his artistic hands on all kinds of different shit. In the last few years, Kanye’s branched out into fashion and Maynard’s become a winemaker. Some folks’ passion for creativity simply cannot be restricted. They won’t allow it to be. And if that isn’t fucking inspirational, I’m not sure what is.
To be honest, if you’re a fan of experimental or progressive rock and you haven’t delved into Puscifer, there’s no time like the present. Tracks I’d definitely recommend as a springboard would be:
–Any of the songs previously mentioned in this article
–Grand Canyon (from Money Shot)
–Rev 22-20 (from Don’t Shoot the Messenger)
–Green Valley (from Conditions of My Parole)
–Toma (from Conditions of My Parole)
–Sour Grapes (from V is for Vagina)
With those you’re well on your way. And if you like what you hear, I’d strongly encourage you to listen to Conditions of My Parole or Money Shot from start to finish; they really are the type of albums to be listened to all the way through, in one go. Have fun.