Puppy – ‘Pure Evil’

By Aaron Jackson

If 2019’s debut LP ‘The Goat’ was anything to go by, then existing listeners of London three-piece Puppy already had plenty of reasons to be hyped when the band announced the release of ‘Pure Evil’. The promise of a second full-length, complete with a sizeable flurry of brand-new singles meant that the road to this release after an understandably quiet period for artists across the globe was a refreshingly exciting one.

Setting the tone from the off, a muddy chord rings out – chugged and repeated over and over again for emphasis. ‘Shining Star’ doesn’t detonate but it feels like a threat of what’s about to come. Frontman Jock Norton’s vocals drone over top of the moody landscape that is completed by measured yet deliberate strikes from both Billy Howard on drums and Will Michael on bass. Michael also has a significant vocal contribution throughout ‘Pure Evil’ and indeed Puppy’s whole discography. The value of said contributions is made abundantly clear in plenty of songs on offer here but few more so than the second track and second single ‘The Kiss’. Lines like “Destroy your ego baby and let that feeling come” wouldn’t hit as sweetly as they do without the extra vocal layer.

Continuing with another single, ‘My Offer’ is the most recent tune that fans have been treated to in the run-up to ‘Pure Evil’s full release. As a result of sheer pace, it’s the most enticing teaser for the record; a simple, pulsating riff carries throughout the track and is deliciously lavished at one point with a brief but scorching hot guitar solo. Also on offer here is the first (of many) proper chunky breakdowns on the album. The express train to Riff City rolls strong and true into ‘Wasted Little Heart’, one of the highlights from the new bunch, if not just for yet another killer breakdown, in which Puppy once again release the shackles and drop an utter chuggernaut. Is that neck sore yet?

In contrast, the likes of ‘Hear My Word’, and ‘Dear John’ offer moments of respite which serve to reinforce the album’s eerie textures, reminding us (as if there was any chance we could forget) that this is a sonic embracing of a macabre aesthetic. The latter of the tracks certainly has a romantic feel about it; Norton opts to let his guitar do the talking alone, and in doing so yields a contemplative intermission right at the halfway point of the album.

The two aforementioned tracks bookend ‘Spellbound’ which ticks all the boxes of what constitutes a quintessential Puppy song. An innovative and intoxicating blend of the gothic melancholia conveyed through the oeuvres of prog mainstays such Ghost and Opeth, dappled with grunge tones once championed by the likes of Pixies and The Smashing Pumpkins. As is the case with the vast majority of Puppy’s music, ‘Spellbound’ is guitar-driven and once again boasts a breakneck outro, lavished by yet another face-melting solo. Impressive technical proficiency aside, Norton’s guitar sounds fantastic; the tones throughout ‘Pure Evil’ are spot on.

In the second half of ‘Pure Evil’, there are three songs that had previously been released as singles, each of which with its own merit. While Puppy may not necessarily be known for hooks and catchy choruses, both ‘…And Watched It Glow’ and ‘Angel’ have substantial vocal motifs that fans will no doubt be crying back in the band’s direction at live shows. Furthermore, the melodic pattern in the verses of ‘Shame’ injects a fluidity that juxtaposes the plodding soundscape established by the instrumentation underneath.

Included right at the death, and opening with Norton aptly declaring, “This is the end”, ‘Glacial’ is the final track on ‘Pure Evil’ and encompasses everything that Puppy have released to date. The band themselves reckon that the album’s closer is “possibly the best song on there” and that it “sums up [their] band really well”. It’s a terrific way to bow out of an album that matches the high standard set by ‘The Goat’.

Diverse, innovative and, most importantly, really exciting, ‘Pure Evil’ is a triumph from a band that continue to impress at every given opportunity.

AARON JACKSON

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