Debut: Psalm Zero – “Willpower” (Today is the Day cover)

I wish that more metal bands would record covers. To be fair, metal’s cultural preference for original songwriting is one of its finest features. Cover bands are lame. (Plenty of metal bands play “originals” that are basically covers anyway.) But clever re-interpretations of great source material can engage listeners just as effectively as a well-written original piece can, and in different ways.

Psalm Zero’s cover of Today is the Day’s “Willpower” is a good example. If you’re unfamiliar with them, Psalm Zero is a collaboration between guitarist/vocalist Andrew Hock of Castevet, who released one of this year’s best albums, and vocalist/bassist Charlie Looker of the defunct avant/prog act Extra Life. Unsurprisingly, Profound Lore has already signed them for their debut full-length next year.

Hock and Looker’s past work is utterly dissimilar aside from its general weird darkness, so their decision to work together piques my interest plenty on its own. Their choice of cover, though, puts me in nerd heaven. Today is the Day hold a lot of personal significance for me, and Willpower is probably their best album. Even a relatively straight cover of its title track by these two musicians would be fascinating.

Psalm Zero wisely do not play it straight. Instead, they detour far from both the original recording and their own sound. For the most part, this band plays shuffling, oddly ethereal industrial metal that suggests more complexity than it employs. (You can hear a sample here.) But their “Willpower” cover isn’t metal at all; it’s not even amplified. Hock splits vocal duties with Looker on most Psalm Zero songs, but here he limits himself to layered acoustic guitar work. Looker delivers Steve Austin’s elliptical lyrics in a measured tenor chant. Fittingly, he double-tracks his voice. Their cover strips all the violence from the TITD original and take liberties with its structure, but the spiritual discomfort at its core endures in full. It’s a remarkable effect.

I saw Psalm Zero live a few weeks back; Hock mentioned to me that the band’s minimalist lineup will allow them to record oddball covers like this one quickly and frequently. I hope he follows through. Psalm Zero’s debut 7″ Force My Hand comes out on Last Things Records on November 19. Preorder it here, and stream the original song below.

— Doug Moore