Charlie Looker distances himself from his nihilistic past work with the band's warmer, more organic new record
Previous Psalm Zero albums had a machine-like chill reflective of the then-nihilistic worldview held by creative mastermind Charlie Looker.
But on new full-length Sparta, the metal band’s sound is slightly warmer and more organic, owing both to the addition of a live drummer (Keith Abrams takes over for the long-employed drum machine) and to a larger personal shift within the musician.
“The coldness of the original Psalm Zero was shaped by my idea of what a rock band was, at the time, where there’s a level of ‘fuck it,’ or a weird nihilistic energy,” said Looker, who joins Psalm Zero in opening for Kayo Dot at Ace of Cups on Sunday, March 1. “I was in a very cold-blooded phase at that point. This was 2012, ’13, ’14, and this cold wind, which is very global now, blew through my heart. … With this record, I’m not in that same place. For years, I had mental health issues and physical health issues, and now those are quite a bit under control. Where you’re at [in life] shines through, you know?”
Of course, songs like “Open Wound,” a five-plus-minute monolith built on crushing, doomy guitars, aren’t a radical sonic departure, but throughout there remains a sense of the weather finally beginning to break.Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
Lyrically, Looker continues to explore outsized themes, touching on ideas of humankind evolving into something more machine-like (a narrative he countered, in a sense, by bringing in an actual human drummer for the first time in the band’s history — take that, Andrew Yang) and packing in numerous references to dark forces lurking on the fringes. Several songs mention wolves or other beasts at the door — “Outside is animal, cold and mechanical,” Looker offers on “Animal Outside” — and at times he repeats lines that suggest he’s steeling himself for some impending catastrophe. “Am I strong enough for what’s to come?” he sings on the title track.
“The record is dealing with the human and the general cultural climate. One of the things that seems to be in crisis is the very idea of humanism, in the sense of mankind as a unified brotherhood or sisterhood,” Looker said. “A lot of what we’re seeing now — and not just with the overt racism, which is a more obvious example — is a growing sense that, no, we’re not all in this together. … Some of these people — not friends, but people who I used to get into trouble with — have gone and become almost proper Fascists over Trump. So you see some shit, and you see where people are at, and it’s disturbing.”
Rather than taking this concept to a similarly dark place as on past records, Sparta is Looker’s attempt at finding balance. “And may I ask where my humanity went?” he sings on “A Pill.” Songs like “Animal Outside” and “The Last Faith” suggest that the answer lies within.
“I wasn’t consciously trying to be more positive with this record, but with the general cultural climate right now, hate and disdain for people is not where I’m at, at all,” Looker said. “I’ve never gone for really hippy-ish peace and love vibes because, like I said before, music has always been this clearinghouse, turning pessimism and negativity into something beautiful. I never thought of it as being rooted in brotherly love, but now we’re at this point culturally where it’s natural some lines are being drawn.”