What exactly is going on in New York? The city has a long musical history, of course, but in recent years it seems to have become a focus point for challenging, original and distinctive Heavy Metal. We’re not talking about some forced “scene” with three or four decent bands setting the tone for a horde of bland followers, either – though Psalm Zero share a certain spirit with their neighbours in Pyrrhon, Krallice and Artificial Brain, musically they’re as distinctive as those bands are from each other.
Not that the music on Stranger To Violence (Profound Lore) is especially easy to describe. The label blurb makes much of their Pop influence, but this is hardly the chorus-heavy cheese-fest that word may suggest – the song-writing somehow marries catchiness to a genuine sense of unease and strangeness. The Metal elements shouldn’t be overlooked, either – the use of synths often calls to mind the darker side of eighties Pop, but just when you think you’ve got them in a box they’ll shift to a surging bombast that has more in common with Emperor than Depeche Mode. The extremely sparse use of harsh vocals in the most aggressive sections create a real sense of dislocation, too, hitting with an impact that they lack in music which uses them more regularly. It’s Pop Metal, but nothing like any other band that’s been given that name before.
If the music is hard to describe, the aesthetic behind it is no less so. The artwork suggests urban dystopia, and though that is certainly present on tracks like ‘Real Rain’ and ‘Stolen By Night’, there’s also an undercurrent of dark fantasy and strangeness to it that can’t be described easily. It’s frequently as uplifting as it is sinister, as dark as it is catchy.
In a genre with so many offshoots and sub-types that it seems as though every possibility has been thoroughly explored, Psalm Zero have genuinely succeeded in carving their own little niche – and it’s a strange, fascinating little place indeed.
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