Earlier this year Brooklyn duo Psalm Zero released Real Rain, the first of a planned trilogy of special cassette releases called The Birthright Trilogy. Five months later avant-garde stalwart Charlie Looker and guitar genius Andrew Hock (if you read Decibel you know who Castevet are) have returned with the second installation, Hunchback, which will be released September 29 on Black Mass Productions.
Psalm Zero have always excelled at juxtaposing seemingly disparate sounds, namely meditative gothic post-punk and jagged, martial industrial music, and in casual conversation with Hock the comparison “Death meets Depeche Mode” was tossed out, and hearing the track now, it’s hard to disagree. Ornate, surreally detached melodies commingle with raw, aggressive death metal riffs and growled vocals, making for the most outwardly “metal” song Psalm Zero have recorded in their short history.
In addition, they’ve teamed up with award-winning filmmaker Roger Hayn for a stunning, surreal video for “Hunchback” that immediately elicits comparisons to the equally abstract work of Stan Brakhage.
Hock, Looker, Hayn, and yours truly set up a casual online chat to glean a couple good quotes about the track, but it turned into a great little back and forth, so it’s been reproduced here for your reading pleasure. And as Hock mentions, maybe it’s time to mane “demon gaze” a thing.
What’s the whole concept behind the song? Or is there one?
Charlie Looker: Lyrically, I don’t want to over-explain the song and try to reduce it to a single message, but the main themes are Jewish self-hatred and drug addiction. I think a lot of anti-Semitism is an expression of anti-intellectualism, anti-capitalism, and a general contempt for what a weakling modern man has become. “Hunchback” is about how our desire to destroy our own minds with hard drugs is an expression of having internalized all those fascist ideas. Drugs are more than just Romantic, they’re fascist. The lyrics contain references to the Old Testament, Crowley, and two great psychoanalyst/philosophers Carl Jung and Julia Kristeva.
As for Depeche Mode meets Death…In general with Psalm Zero, it would be inaccurate and over-simplistic to say that I’m bring the Mode and Andrew’s bringing the Death. But in this particular song, the process may have broken down roughly along those lines.
Andrew Hock: Well, this song was almost purely collaborative, save the mid section.
Charlie: Yeah talking about song-writing process can be weird, because each song is pretty different the way it goes down. Let’s just put it this way… combining disparate influences is not a conscious decision with us.
Andrew: I think we came into that song with poking fun at all the black metal bands biting shoegaze so heavily and we were all about Immolation’s Unholy Cult at the time, and we smoked a bunch of weed and coined the term “demon gaze”.
Charlie: We just get going on some material and all these elements come in.
Andrew: I had already had that first riff written for a while and the song kind of blossomed out of that. Which does have a strong tie to the feel of some of the more melodic parts on Unholy Cult, especially the ending riff of the title track.
Charlie: Yeah, this has the most death metal elements of any Psalm Zero song. As for Depeche Mode, that’s just a big influence on how I write melodies and how I sing. I mean, the song isn’t really Depeche Mode meets Death. It’s just Charlie Looker meets Andrew Hock basically!
And Roger, what was your idea behind the video?
Roger Hayn: I wanted for the video to complement the music in texture rather than subject matter. I listened to the track a few times and it got me thinking about a cross between the “Christbait Rising” video, some avant-garde films from the 1960’s / 70’s and a ballet. It felt right to me so I went with it.
Andrew: Roger and I actually grew up together, so we’ve known each other since elementary school, but really connected later in life. He went to bad kid high school and I went to jazz dork high school but hung out with the bad kids.
Charlie: The very dichotomy being addressed in Hunchback.
Andrew: Roger’s not Jewish though. You should check Roger’s short, Introducing Bobby. It won best short at AFI two years ago.
Roger: Yeah, please do check out my short if you find some time. I hope you like it. And thanks for suggesting it, Andrew.