Was there ever an album cover that better displayed visually the music contained therein? A menacing tome stands flanked by candles, bones and various other unholy items, ready to welcome any demonic deity summoned up from the nether realms through the casting of ancient and forbidden magick. So far, so heavy metal, right?
Wrong. The conventional foreboding of the image is then completely undercut by the decision to douse everything in an aggressively plastic shade of pink. The new Puppy album cover pays tribute to the brooding, masculine design of the traditional metal album cover (darkness and skeletons and wizards, oh my!) while incorporating a hyper-feminine aesthetic, that wouldn’t look out of place on a release from Charlie XCX or Carlie Rae Jepsen.
This contrast functions as a neat warning label to deter narrow-minded pop enthusiasts and overly nostalgic Iron Maiden fans alike: musically this album does exactly what it says on the tin. ‘The Goat’ is basically a skull-shaped PEZ dispenser filled with 12 near-perfect pellets of bubblegum rock.
Puppy are a bonafide metal act, and this record is still devastatingly heavy where it needs to be. But it’s also addictively sweet when it wants to be, each song bouncing effortlessly between bone-shattering riffs and ear-pleasing choruses like it’s the easiest thing in the world. This kind of fluidity doesn’t just develop overnight. Since their emergence with a scrappy self-titled EP in 2015 it’s taken Puppy almost four years to get around to finally releasing a debut album. Long-time fans will recognise songs like ‘Demons’ and ‘Entombed’ from setlists reaching as far back as 2016.
Granted, the wait has been frustrating, but the time and effort the band have put into perfecting their idiosyncratic song writing technique - skilfully weaving brutal verses with instantly singable choruses (think early Biffy Clyro meets late Biffy Clyro but without out the shit parts of either) - is tangible.
The trio have studied the history of hard pop/hook-laden rock in some detail, picking out the best blending tactics from the past half century and repurposing them for their own ends. So even though tracks regularly open with an unmistakeably ‘70s Sabbath chug, there’s also a good dollop of ‘80s hair metal (the jubilant ‘World Stands Still’ in particular sounds like it could segue off into The Scorpions’ ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane’ at the drop of a hat); melodic guitar solos cribbed straight from the Billy Corgan/Rivers Cuomo bible of the ‘90s (see ‘Handlebars’); closely harmonised backing vocals so smooth they’d make early ‘00s John Frusciante blush (‘And So I Burn’); and a daring willingness to kick an already amped chorus up an extra notch shared by current metal overlords Ghost.
On first listen this rampant sonic variation can become too much. Initially the leap during ‘Bathe In Blood’ - from murky blast beats into clean guitar sweetness - is distinctly jarring. But once you become accustomed to the sweet and sour flavour, these are precisely the moments that keep you coming back for more.
In past years such seamless song craft would have raised questions about authenticity, suspicions would rise that such a radio-worthy, neatly packaged band must be the product of major label manufacturing and professional ghostwriting. Now that forming a band is barely financially viable, however, we can be content in the knowledge that these three lads are actually creative wizards capable of summoning up an entire album’s worth of what would once have been considered world-conquering hits.
Words: Josh Gray
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