Metal albums often are referred to as sounding like wars or battles or struggles, sides pulling at each other for complete dominance over the other. Blood is shed, bodies are strewn about the battlefield–real or proverbial–and the listener is left to sort it all out.
I initially had the same feeling when taking on Psalm Zero, the duo comprised of Andrew Hock of black metal maulers Castevet, and experimental, avant-garde musician Charlie Looker, who has performed in bands as diverse as The Dirty Projectors, the Zs, and Extra Life. On the surface, it would seem these two forces would have nothing to do with each other and have not a thing in common musically. That’s a very rudimentary book-by-the-cover kind of assessment, but if you dig deeper into what each musician does, there’s always been more than enough room for creativity and adventure, and that’s on full display on the band’s self-released two-track 7-inch, as well as on their debut record “The Drain” that we will discuss today.
As noted, my first inclination was to think of this record as a sort of battle of forces, the darkwave, New Wave, and drab sadness brought to the table by Looker, and the savage, unbridled violence unleashed by Hock. But again, that was an on-the-surface assessment first time through the album, but as time has gone on and I’ve had far more listens, that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Instead, the seven songs on “The Drain” sound more like a back-and-for conversation between forms, or even the raging bipolar emotions that can go on in one’s head, as sometimes the mood is dreary, dark, and rainy, while at others there are savage explosions, fires raging out of control, and a sense that the only logical way to suppress the madness is to bring it to a cataclysmic end. They’re not at war. They’re working together. The sounds on this record meld so perfectly together that, when a death-like assault rises out of a murky, gothier section, it feels like it’s something that’s been bubbling and has to happen. Same for when it goes the opposite direction. It’s such an interesting, unique record that I could go on and on describing the tugs and pulls I’ve experienced. I know this is a major statement you hear all the time, but you won’t hear another record like “The Drain” this year. That’s a promise.
You are immersed in this band’s mindframe immediately on the opening title cut, that has tenets of deathrock, some metallic washes electrifying the music, and Looker’s deep baritone that fills your mind with depressive thoughts. As the drama builds, Hock’s guitars begin to mangle, and he unleashes his trademark growls, easily jarring you into consciousness and making you ride out the cold sweat final few minutes of dreary madness. “Force My Hand” is mesmerizing, with strange keyboards and guitars swirling. Looker’s singing runs headlong into Hock’s heathen shouts and screams, which actually carry the bulk of the song, especially when he shouts, “Force my hand!” like it’s exploding from his chest cavity. “Chaos Body” is ideally named, with noisy yelling, punchy and mean metallics, and warm synth swimming beneath the black waters and breaking the surface here and there. The tension between the heavy and the dark collide beautifully, as fires in both worlds burn brightly and eventually overlap.Guitars are smeared over the chaos, Hock lets go his animalistic best, and the track has a devastating, spacey finish.
“In the Dead” feels more like it’s out of Looker’s wheelhouse, with disarmingly poppy melodies, deep, morbid keyboard work, and his vocals that remind of Morrissey’s more biting moments, especially when he sings, “I’ll keep you close, close but not safe,” as the two blend together their playing for the final few minutes as the song disappears into thin air. “Drain Postlude” is a cold, isolated, synth-driven interlude that sounds like it was dreamt up in a sterile lab somewhere, and it leads into “Undoing,” with its murky melodies, combination of clean singing and cataclysmic growls, and penetrating keyboards and effects. Hock digs deep for his harshest growls, the program drums pelt you like rapid machine gun fire, and the whole last half has an uneasy feeling like something really bad is going to happen, especially when Looker offers, “The ugly one has quit the stage, we paint our home and burn it down.” Closer “Meanwhile” teases, taunts, and tricks you over its eight-minute run time, starting off with steady beats and trickling guitars, slowly building the tempo and drama, and even getting into proggy territory as the playing branches out further. Looker’s singing is oddly, yet purposely, detached, the guitars conjure a trance-like repetition that’ll get you staring in confusion, and all of the elements come together for the end of the song. Looker and Hock clash vocally, the doom drama builds to its thickness, bells ring as if signaling the end, and the final blaze of synth sounds like doom trumpets, bringing the record to a smoking conclusion.
This is a record that could get people with devout worship of the Cure, My Bloody Valentine, the Smiths, and Swans into a room with Cobalt, Castevet, Krallice, and those who swear to the darkest of the dark and all get something to pull out and devour. There are very few examples of such diverse sides coming together like Psalm Zero do on “The Drain” and have things turn into dark, morbid, depressive magic that was always meant to be together. This record will not soon leave your brain, your blood, or you life, and you might find yourself returning often to figure out just what about this record strikes such a deep chord within you. It’s a struggle that may be eternal, but once I intend to continue to explore well into my days.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/psalmzeronyc
To buy the album, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/
For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/