Greg Puciato isn’t exactly one of the most mainstream figures in the music industry, but his influence has definitely permeated into it. Getting his big break with The Dillinger Escape Plan, his first record with the band was their seminal second album Miss Machine that seems to have influenced basically every single metal and hardcore band since the mid-00s. Puciato’s voice had the ability to fully match the unhinged cacophony that was The Dillinger Escape Plan, shifting from Mike Patton-style inflections all the way to a gloriously raw and unhinged bellow that’s totally unique to him.
The Dillinger Escape Plan is long gone, however, and the forever enigmatic figure that is its frontman has been getting involved in some other projects including The Black Queen (a dark-pop project he does alongside Telefon Tel Aviv’s Josh Eustis and Steven Alexander, a guitar tech by trade) and Killer Be Killed (a heavy metal supergroup where he teams up with Max Cavalera, Mastodon’s Troy Sanders and Converge’s Ben Koeller). Considering that Puciato is pretty fluent on guitar as well as having his unmistakable vocal ability, some of us have wondered what a solo album by him would sound like. Well now we don’t have to ponder that question anymore, because he’s now dropped Child Soldier: Creator of God, an epic 65 minute-long album composed and performed almost entirely by him with Chris Pennie (ex-The Dillinger Escape Plan, ex-Coheed and Cambria), Chris Hornbrook (Poison The Well) and his Killer Be Killed bandmate Ben Koeller all providing drums on various tracks.
Child Soldier: Creator of God gets off to a very slow start, with the acoustic strumming and gentle vocals of ‘Heaven of Stone’ and the unsettling electronic noise of ‘Creator of God’. The slow burn of the album’s first two tracks could be a bit of a chore on the first listen, but it all pays off when everything explodes into ‘Fire for Water’. ‘Fire for Water’ sounds like a return to Puciato’s Dillinger Escape Plan days (not surprising considering Chris Pennie played the drums on this track), mixed with a bit of Nine Inch Nails-style harshness and industrialism. Puciato pulls out all the stops vocally too, switching effortlessly between smooth, unsettling crooning and his signature piercing screams. ‘Deep Set’ takes things into a chaotically swung grungy direction, whilst ‘Temporary Object’ comes very close to the territory of The Black Queen with its influences from synth-pop, R&B and psychedelia.
As you might have gathered already, this album is a very diverse one! That’s something I was somewhat expecting considering the sheer musical range of the bands that Puciato has been involved in, but I wasn’t expecting Child Soldier: Creator of God to be anywhere near as diverse as it is. By the album’s mid-point, it has already covered everything from industrial music (‘Creator of God’) to balls to the wall heavy metal (‘Fire for Water’, ‘Roach Hiss’) to doomy grungy rock (‘Deep Set’, ‘Do You Need Me to Remind You?’) to quirky synth-pop (‘Temporary Object’, ‘Fireflies’). That’s a hell of a lot of genre whiplash! But then you only have to remember how much The Dillinger Escape Plan would lurch between genres and the sheer musical diversity there is between the output of Puciato’s two current bands.
The grunge era in particular seems to be a huge influence on the more rock-oriented tracks of Child Soldier: Creator of God. ‘Deep Set’ and ‘Do You Need Me to Remind You?’ are definitely two of the grungiest songs, with the latter especially dipping into the darkest places that sort of influence can go with its almost doom metal-esque odd-metered main riff. ‘Roach Hiss’ takes a lot of influence too from the more esoteric end of the grunge movement, translating that into a lurching metal assault that makes it one of the album’s standout tracks.
Perhaps another one of the record’s stand-out moments is ‘Down When I’m Not’. This song shows a side of Puciato that we haven’t really seen before; all of a sudden, he drops us into a driving punk rock song with more of his brilliant crooning vocals. It’s by far the simplest track on the album as it’s all Nirvana-esque simple chords and big drums, but that’s what makes it one of the best parts of the release. It’s a reprieve from the chaotic and sometimes difficult twists and turns of the whole record, giving us some space to breathe before we go back into more familiar – if familiar is even a word that can be used to describe the proceedings here – territory.
The oddest track by far is ‘Through the Walls’. It’s an off-kilter love ballad-type song that features funky guitars, jazzy chords, lightly-played drums and metallic textures reminiscent of the more cinematic work of Nine Inch Nails, all underpinning a brilliantly emotive vocal. This is followed up by the almost equally quirky ‘A Pair of Questions’, which dips back into the psychedelic R&B-flavoured synth-pop we heard earlier on ‘Temporary Object’.
Perhaps another standout of the album is ‘Evacuation’. Following a creepy R&B-esque intro, Puciato drops fully into KMFDM-level industrial territory with mechanical guitar riffs, punishing drums and more of his fantastic trademark yells, topped up with some ominous chanting that fades in about three-quarters of the way into the track. Whilst he has dipped into industrial previously on this album, this is the closest he’s ever come to going fully into that world and it’s a new side of Puciato that I honestly welcome.
The album ends with ‘Heartfree’ and ‘September City’, two lower-tempo songs with a very melancholic vibe to them. ‘Heartfree’ is driven by droning guitar riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Alice In Chains record before exploding halfway through into a bittersweet section that’s one of the album’s best moments. ‘September City’ is driven by a gentle piano line and a softly-sung vocal, before expanding outwards just over halfway through into a huge rock song. This rock section is what carries us out to the end of the album and it’s an absolutely fantastic way to end everything.
Child Soldier: Creator of God is not an easy listen. It’s a very long and very odd album that lurches from genre to genre, often unexpectedly, and it can sometimes feel like the flow is a bit jarring. What it is, however, is a brilliant expression of what Greg Puciato does best. Puciato is a master of making fantastic, unique and challenging music and the fact that he managed to write all these songs on his own and perform nearly every instrument on the final recordings makes the whole endeavour an incredible piece of art. Hopefully Child Soldier: Creator of God won’t be the only solo album he ever makes and that we’ll get regular instalments of solo Greg Puciato goodness!
Words by Robert Percy
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