When Puppy were breaking out a few years ago, everything about them was emblematic of just an outstanding find. They had a great, original sound blending hulking classic metal with grunge and a creamy pop centre, not to mention the musical and hook-writing chops to make the absolute most of it. For where British rock has been heading recently, The Goat remains a landmark release unfairly overlooked for whatever reason. It still isn’t clear why when Puppy’s accessibility complements their uniqueness so expertly, but it left them in a position where future releases weren’t so easily telegraphed, perhaps trying to attrit against a more muted response than was deserved, or maybe prevailing in spite of it. As for Pure Evil then, it’s hard to say exactly which of those labels feels most comfortable; at some parts it’s both, at others neither, but in locking together in a way that’ll inevitably set off cries of ‘difficult second album’. But even that isn’t totally accurate, as Pure Evil rings as more of a retooling than an outright step down. Compared to The Goat,it’s definitely a weaker body of work—the moments of really exuberance and grandeur are less prominent, as a main overview—but it’s enough to prove how chameleonic Puppy can be within an already fluid musical landscape they’ve constructed for themselves. The previous licks of punk and hard rock leave a more prominent finish in places, in how The Kiss or Angel are more indebted to the rollick than the groove, though there’s still room for that in a great number like Spellbound. Best of all, the pop focus hasn’t gone away, as the sweet melodies continue to bleed out through Jock Norton’s nasal vocals, perhaps a bit deeper in the mix than they’d like to be, but really eking out the pop-rock sharpness to wonderful effect.
In fact, it’s still a wonder that Puppy’s particularly brew has the straightforward impact that it does. It’s the instrumental qualities that really stand out this time, as opposed to full songs; they just don’t click as readily as they did previously, or suffer from cut-down lengths that mean they don’t quite have the room to expand to the degree that a sound like this demands. Perhaps that’s intentional when the writing isn’t quite as punchy overall, though Puppy can more than make up for it with a sound as titanic as theirs naturally is. It’s that guitar tone that’s everything, with its grungier affectations but far deeper fealty to classic metal that makes Wasted Little Heart or …And Watched It Glow feel as though they weigh literal tons. The instrumental mix is still blessed with a remarkable lack of clutter or roadblocks, and for as many sonic threads as they’ll weave together, there’s a purity in the overall blend that always works so well. There’s not a weak link among them as a unit, between the seismic might of Norton’s riffing, Will Michael’s careening bass that sounds like it could fell trees on its own, and Billy Howard’s drumming that ties the whole colossal thing together. It retains the immovable presence that’s one of Puppy’s defining characteristics, filled with the power and creativity that continues to keep them at a higher level, regardless of whether this is a slight step down. Overall, it definitely is, especially in a setting where this and The Goat can be compared back to back, but there’s enough about Puppy that’s inherently great for them to continue standing tall. There’s still no one else around that sounds entirely like them, and they continue to use it to their advantage pretty much at every turn. It’s just a case of getting that approach the airtime it so desperately deserves.
For fans of: Nirvana, Turbowolf, Metallica
‘Pure Evil’ by Puppy is released on 6th May on Rude Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall