The Psalms aren’t just any other prog rock band. To be honest, granting the simple label “prog rock” or even “experimental rock” to the veteran quintet from Singapore doesn’t do much justice to their signature sound. Having finally released their debut LP People Eating People this year, it’s safe to say that the band, with almost a decade of experience and several EPs under their collective belt, are constantly breaking new ground with their music.
The Psalms are a group of five, consisting of Isyraf and Mish’aal in the rhythm section on drums and bass respectively, while keyboardist Wan G and guitarist Kye add color and depth to the band with their intricate technique. Vocalist Suhaili tops off the collective with her jazz-influenced chops and immense vocal control. It’s never about going by the book for them; all members hail from different backgrounds of music which makes it all the more unique when they come together. “We were all friends from different bands and played extreme styles. Two of us were in a grind band, the other two were from a metal band, and Suhaili was into grunge”, explains Wan G.
If forced to try, The Psalms are a mix of hardcore elements while maintaining balance through flourishing guitar riffs and waves of dark electronic scratches. One striking element of their sound is the band’s overall technical ability that allows them to exercise flexibility on time signatures and explore unconventional compositional progressions. What we find here is a level of sophistication and instrumentation that goes beyond the established expectations of anyone dipping their feet into prog or experimental rock, to the point that some may even attribute their sound to jazz elements. With so much of their creative process being attributed to the flow and feeling of the music, the band refuses to be shelved in any genre. As Wan G shares, “A lot of people say that we do lots of stuff, but when we play musically we just go with what we feel is right or nice. We don’t expect people to go ‘oh, that’s Miles Davis’.”
Seeing their debut effort finally come to fruition after almost a decade of being together as a band, People Eating People is a real testimony to The Psalms’ journey since their humble beginnings in 2006. The nine-track collection is a journey of different stylistic approaches put together. While “I ” and “Unison” lean on melodic tendencies and flow, the band pulls out all the stops and goes hard on numbers such as “Tanganyika” and the title track “People Eating People”. With the progression made throughout the years up until this release, there’s no surprise that the band takes pride in their music, especially in intense instrumental layering and Suhaili’s vocal dynamics driving all of it. As Wan G puts it, “The previous EP (Ishmael’s Wishlist) was much more aggressive. It takes a lot more discipline now…the ‘jazz’ style is more focused.”
Above and beyond the music, words bring us deeper into the essence of who The Psalms are. Using People Eating People as their medium of choice, it was written with society’s progress in mind. With moral lines being increasingly blurred today, the songs were written as reactions to the resulting juxtaposition of morality. “Snake And The Mongoose” is one with particularly compelling words: “Faceoff between the beggar and the rich, the pauper and the king, no nobody’s gonna see / Faceoff between the black and the white, the snake and the mongoose, everybody’s going blind”.
As the band’s primary lyricist, Suhaili shares her thinking behind the words, “I listen to a lot of bands like Rage Against The Machine that talk about culture and I’m very much into this, so I decided to put these things into People Eating People…I think of it as human behavior and human response to the current affairs. For me, it became a commentary on what is happening. Not the event but the response towards the event.”
Besides their usual line of music, The Psalms also have an ongoing series known as Alternative Sessions, where a more experimental electronic sound can be heard. With the products of these sessions being released periodically, the band gets the opportunity to dabble into unchartered territory and emerge with gems such as “Ungodly Hour” and “Refugees”. In particular, the latter adopts a rhythmic approach that is both fresh and addictive through warped electronic sounds and even spoken word.
If you’re already hooked on the electrifying brand of music from The Psalms and want more, you’re in luck as the group currently has an EP in the works to be released later this year, titled Unorthodox. With the level of energy and intricacy that goes into the band’s craft, that title couldn’t be more fitting.