U.K.-based Puppy’s debut through Spinefarm Records, The Goat, may or may not use titular wordplay to suggest both occult themes and all-time greatness, but the band’s opinion of their own sound suggests that level of confidence.
When asked about Puppy’s tonal move away from past projects, singer/guitarist Jock Norton said, “We had a bit of a wake-up moment, and we just thought, ‘Why are we doing stuff that everyone else is doing without questioning it?’” Whether or not The Goat blazes any new territory or even bends any genre tropes, however, seems questionable at best.
Instrumental hooks in “Black Hole,” “Handlebars,” “Just Like You,” and “Demons” prove unapologetically guilty of palm mutes, harsh rests, pinch harmonics, or a combination of the three tropes that exhausted the 90s-2000s grungy nü-metal scene. The sweaty machismo of these riffs might become favorites of people that loudly grunt while deadlifting at public gyms.
Of course, there’s a line where this heavy-handed style might shift its soundtrack potential from awkward drive with your stepdad to headbanging, solo road trip. Stone Temple Pilots and Life Of Agony immediately come to mind when considering such guilty pleasures. The issue with nearly half of Puppy’s debut, however, is that they seem to tear these overused riffs directly from their influences and tack them into their songs somewhat haphazardly.
To the band’s favor, Puppy inject another, more timeless influence into most, if not all, of The Goat’s songs. This other, more pleasing personality found on The Goat lurks somewhere in the simulated fog of theatrical, heavy rock. Here, a little self-awareness, tied with a knack for showmanship and storytelling, dial back hyper-masculinity in favor of entertainment.
The song “Nightwalker” almost sparkles with the same charm as Energy’s Walk Into The Fire, blending more nuanced guitar work with sustaining, eerie vocal melodies. While maybe lacking the dramatic opulence or range of Papa Emeritus, the vocal delivery on songs like “Bathe In Blood” and “And So I Burn” feel a tad like Ghost tracks.
Even on songs where the focal points are hamfisted mosh calls, Norton manages to add some solid moments of theater. The chorus and bridge in “Black Hole” as well as the lyrical body of “Demons” might even fit well in a mix with Dio or King Diamond.
Still, it’s hard to say that Puppy elevate themselves anywhere near the other artists mentioned. The Goat’s struggle to escape its influences lies simply in the fact that every song seems more like piecemeal emulation than creative expansion.
While the record is certainly listenable, Puppy haven’t really challenged any rules with The Goat. In many instances, they rehash songwriting techniques that deserve either abandonment or reinterpretation. That said, vocal delivery and slivers of instrumental bravado harkening back to the heyday of heavy rock make for a promise, however obscured, that Puppy might have a great album in them, yet. That album simply isn’t The Goat.