After nearly four years of writing, rehearsing, and solo project excursions, Psalm Zero, the New York-based art-metal outfit led by guitarist/singer/songwriter Charlie Looker, returns with their third LP, Sparta. Having garnered respect in the metal underground over the past seven years for their intense blend of disparate styles and genres, Psalm Zero delivers another statement of their truly unique vision of heavy music.

This eight-song album is the band’s first without former guitarist Andrew Hock, with Looker taking over on guitar, and with drums and bass by Keith Abrams and Ron Varod (both of Kayo Dot) respectively. It is also the first Psalm Zero record to be released not on the Profound Lore label, but on Looker’s own Last Things Records. The album marks both a moment of bold new beginnings, and also the furtherance of a consistent vision.

Sparta retains many of the signature aesthetics of Psalm Zero’s first two LPs, The Drain (2014) and Stranger to Violence (2016). Looker’s distinctive baritone continues its dark pop echoes of Depeche Mode, building soaring melodic choruses, over punishing, gloomy guitar riffs harkening to Katatonia, grinding bass in the Godflesh tradition, and a bed of cold, lush synth ambience. However, most black and death metal elements have fallen by the wayside, with the guitar riffs now centering more on doom metal, and even some of the more straightforward alternative rock sounds of the 90s and 00s. Perhaps the most striking difference, however, is that Psalm Zero’s previous drum machine mechanism has given way to the virtuosic, and deeply human, live beats of Keith Abrams. The sensibility of Sparta is less that of a studio-oriented project, and more that of an actual “rock band”. Recorded by in-demand engineer Seth Manchester at Providence RI creative hub, Machines with Magnets (The Body, Daughters, Marissa Nadler), the album boasts a bigger, more hi-fi sound than any prior Psalm Zero release.

Lyrically, Sparta is similar to prior Psalm Zero statements, in Looker’s merging of personal, emotional crisis, with more outward-directed political and social questioning. However, this time, the themes are less sprawling, more focused: What is the meaning of universal human brotherhood? Can this sense of shared humanity survive? Across the album’s eight songs, the perspective oscillates between pessimistic anxiety, and the taking of a more hopeful, committed, and we hope not last, stand for the unity of mankind.

Sparta features a special guest lead vocal appearance, and compositional collaboration, with Lingua Ignota (Kristin Hayter) on the eight-minute epic Return to Stone. The album’s single, the equally long-form The Last Faith, will feature a video by director and occultist Joan Pope. The release of the record will be supported by an East Coast tour, featuring guest drummer Lev Weinstein (of Krallice, and Anicon).

Still pushing the boundaries of what heavy music can be, and yet more accessible and crossover-friendly than ever, Sparta promises to further bring together between fans of extreme metal, indie rock, gothic aesthetics, and experimental composition.

Sparta was available from February 4 from Last Things Records, on digital and vinyl formats

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