With their sophomore album “Stranger to Violence”, New York’s Psalm Zero takes the aesthetics, poetics, and spirit established with their 2014 debut, “The Drain”, and blows those elements up into an epic work of wide-screen drama. After two years of anticipation built by the gradual episodic release of the Birthright Trilogy of video/cassette singles, as well as a series of personnel shifts, the Queens NY-based outfit led by songwriter/vocalist/producer Charlie Looker finally delivers the next installment of a wholly unique vision of heavy music. Pummeling drum machine, lush swirling synths, razor-sharp guitar (courtesy of former member Andrew Hock), and grinding bass, all provide the dramatic backdrop for Looker’s crooning baritone voice. Comparisons as diverse as Godflesh, Katatonia, and Depeche Mode have all been used in attempts to describe Psalm Zero’s completely singular brand of art-metal.
While “Stranger to Violence” retains, and in some ways even strengthens, Psalm Zero’s roots in extreme metal, these seven new songs feature massive pop hooks, soaring choruses catchier and more emotionally direct than any of the band’s prior work. With harsh vocals now less frequent and only reserved for the highest ecstatic peaks, these melody-driven songs embody an accessible song-craft seldom heard in today’s metal landscape. The production style has evolved dramatically as well. In contrast to the band’s original murkier, more lo-fi texture, this album is a far more crisp, detailed, colorful, three-dimensional sound world of synths, samples, and percussive electronics.
Psalm Zero has also expanded lyrically, with Looker extending the scope of his writing outside of the purely personal and existential realm, into a more social, global, real-world critical engagement. Without preaching a strict political agenda, and without constituting a unitary “concept album”, the new record is tied together by several different thematic strands: drug addiction, global financial crisis, Western imperialism, and Jewish identity. All of these themes are interwoven throughout all seven of the songs, interrelating and overlapping differently at different times. The album’s single “Not Guilty” features a video directed by Zev Deans (whose many other credits include Portal and Behemoth), filmed around the alleyways and courthouses of the band’s hometown of New York.
“Stranger to Violence” is a monolithic, cinematic, start-to-finish musical experience with immense crossover potential, which blurs genre boundaries at every turn. As demented as it is socially relevant, this album promises to bring together fans from across multiple different scenes and orientations, and further proves that there is truly nothing out there like Psalm Zero.