The more disparate aspects influence a band, the more it’s able to grow. Psalm Zero‘s music prior to the new album Sparta (Last Things Records) was all aggravated Indie, the tunes given an edge by guitarist Andrew Hock. With his departure and the subsequent recruitment of Kayo Dot pairing Keith Abrams and Ron Vodun, remaining founder member Charlie Looker has added a warmer, heavier feel to the Grungey lightness and this, together with a tantalising contribution from Lingua Ignota‘s Kristin Hayter, makes the album an enticing prospect.
That darker sound is evident from the opening strains of ‘Open Wound’, Looker’s voice coming across like the bastard offspring of Mark Hollis and Aaron Stainthorpe. Indeed a slower pace and more melody from the guitar would invoke further comparison with My Dying Bride: as it is, the angry beehive of the mid-section together with the backing choir and horns of the coda show serious invention. The ensuing title track marries this template with a hulking riff and rhythm, counteracting with the light flourishes of synth and resigned despair of the vocal, a little like XTC coming down from a trip.
There’s more of a crunch to ‘The Last Faith’, the riff packing huge weight and the keys providing a sinister atmosphere: yet the plaintive air of the chorus still emits lighter shades. There’s a wonderful swell, a building of ingredients as the track reaches its denouement, which blends anger with a strange Queens Of The Stone Age-esque euphoria, those synth airs also creating a big impression. This moves into the Depeche Mode-drenched fire of ‘No Victim’, the devastating message of suicide given wings by a subtle yet galloping rhythm.
The second half of the album introduces a more epic feel, with the staggering ‘Return to Stone’s eight minutes graced by Hayter’s haunting, eastern-tinged vocal power and a slower, emotionally bruising presence. ‘Animal Outside’, despite an enlivening riff, follows this more morose path and enhances the emotional connection in doing so: its howling lead break embodying the sadness and isolation the track exudes. The brief, acoustic strains of ‘Shibboleth’ clear the way for more Industrial coldness in closer ‘A Pill’: another crunching riff and oscillating bassline contrasting delightfully with Looker’s pleading yet bitter protestations.
There’s a real willingness to diversify that makes Psalm Zero pleasingly, yet troublingly difficult to pigeonhole. Punk? Grunge? Doom? Industrial Pop? It’s all here, with an amazing ability to unify that makes the most incompatible of sounds absorbing and welcoming. This is a grower, trust me.
7 / 10