Greg Puciato couldn’t care less whether you like this album or not. “Honestly, this is for me,” he tells Apple Music. The man best known as vocalist for The Dillinger Escape Plan, as well as Black Queen and Killer Be Killed, is now officially a solo artist. His 15-track debut is a sprawling, emotional introduction to a man that nobody knows. And despite its intensely personal nature, you probably won’t feel like you know him that much better by the end of it. That’s okay. This album isn’t for you to learn about Greg Puciato. It’s for Greg Puciato to learn about himself.
“One of my biggest fears is misrepresenting myself,” he says. “I define success by listening back to a record and seeing, does that feel like me? Does it feel exactly how I felt during this time? Does it take me to where I needed to go, artistically and psychologically and emotionally? If it doesn't, then it's a failure.”
The album opens with the short, acoustic “Heaven of Stone”, and “Creator of God”, which ends with 90 seconds of extreme, relentless noise. It’s almost impossible to endure, which is the point. “It’s a barrier, an entry”, he says. ”This is where you're getting sucked through the fucking event horizon of the black hole. That's me pushing people away, pushing myself away. That's me fucking telling people that you don't know me. You've never known me. You're never going to know me. Now you're in my world and you have no fucking idea what's coming.”
Child Soldier: Creator of God is unpredictable. It somersaults between abrasive, unsparing, merciful and warm. Even the most learned Puciato listener will be surprised and perhaps confused by its emotional and musical elasticity. Puciato began by equipping himself with everything he needed, instrument-wise, to be able to write music that represented any and every emotion. “If you surround yourself with tools, you'll use them, right? I don't feel like I'm a guitar player or bass player or keyboard player,” he says. “Art is the thing that's inside of you. The tool is just the thing that converts that into something for other people to hear.”
The name of the album itself is a reference to “going through things when you're young,” he says. “The beginning of the record is like, you come into this world and it's desolate and you're alone and it's peaceful. And then you kind of pick up some steam and you've got a little bit of purpose to your walk, and then you get hit with fucking all this unknown shit that fucks you up a little bit. And now you have to spend the rest of your life trying to sort through it and deal with it.” It seems bleak, but there’s a sense of ownership in it that he’s never been able to fully express before. “Nothing scares me more than being trapped,” Puciato says. “And nothing makes me feel better than being free. Pretty much every release is me trying to keep the first thing from happening and create the second thing.”
On first listen it seems easy to segment this album into genres and influences. “Deep Set” and “Do You Need Me to Remind You” are grungy and Alice in Chains inspired, its harmonies added after Puciato worked with Jerry Cantrell in 2019 (“Me and Jerry are super buds,” he says. “We're fucking peas in a pod. When I hear those harmonies, it reminds me of my buddy and the beginning of our bromance.”). “Temporary Object” is tender synth-pop; “Roach Hiss” is tangled and severe; “Heartfree” is a melodramatic '80s goth ballad; “Fireflies” is cinematic and revelatory: “You tried to keep me like a firefly / but I’m too quick for you, and you won’t catch me alive,” he sings. “Where were you when I was underground?”. The ninth track, “Down When I’m Not”, is pop-punk inspired, and “Fire for Water” is as aggressive and mean as any Dillinger classic. But the 40-year-old artist implores fans to look beyond such categorisations. “The genre thing is crazy to me because I don't think about it in those terms,” he says. “I think in terms of emotions. The first song on the record is not an acoustic singer-songwriter song. It's an emotion. Even with Dillinger, I felt so uncomfortable with being called metal. I don't think of the distorted guitars and screaming as metal. It's an emotion. They're tools. They're colours that you paint with.”
Puciato has always written autobiographically, but he’s never experienced the level of complete ownership he’s achieved here. He plays every instrument on the album besides drums (they were handled by Chris Hornbrook, Chris Pennie and Ben Koller) and has released it on his own label. And every single moment of the album represents something personal and profound—for him. “If I listen to it, I'm constantly reminded of moments from my life, whether they seemed depressing, or romantic, or pissed me off at the time, or they were exciting. It's like looking at a photo album,” he says, laying his cards on the table. “I’m taking the whole past with me. I'm bringing my childhood, Dillinger Escape Plan, Black Queen, Killer Be Killed, my personal life, everything, I'm fucking ready to rock. I'm me, this is my name. This is who I am. This is who I am artistically. This is who I am as a person. I'm merging it all now, instead of it being all these separate things. And it's really maybe the first time in my life, I think, that I've ever felt good about doing it.”