At the time of the release of their debut album Belfry, it was easy to describe Messa as an Italian doom band. Then they released the follow-up, Feast For Water, and all of a sudden the tag didn’t quite fit the noises they were making. Messa’s third album, Close, was released on 11th March via Svart Records and moves things on again.
On the face of it, the songwriting is more straightforward, the deathly interludes between tracks have been dispensed with, and the production is clearer and more polished. But at the same time Close has a myriad of influences and elements – some obvious and some less explicit, so I’d argue that this is a band that is naturally maturing, and their music is evolving with them – they just happen to have make three very different, but equally brilliant, albums along the way.
It would be ridiculous to try to review a Messa album without first discussing the vocals of frontwoman, Sara. Her voice is at times Kate Bush and at others a more bluesy like Mlny Parsonz from Royal Thunder. Her vocal delivery never falls short of demanding your attention. I first listened to Close on in-ear headphones and in truth, this really didn’t work – Sara’s vocals overtook everything else and as a result, the music felt disjointed. However, happily the experience was totally different when I got home and fired up the floor standers! With a generous helping of volume, the production really opens up and everything is very nicely balanced.
Suspended begins with a fantastically atmospheric organ (it’s a Fender Rhodes piano apparently, but I have no idea what that is), and truth be told, as soon as the guitars chime in and Sara’s vocals arrive, I’m already all-in on Close. It’s a fantastic opener and really gives a great idea of what’s to come.
Dark Horse is then the most obviously heavy track on the album, with some very classic old-school doom riffing and a fast pace that the album rarely returns to. Towards the end of the track, the main riff is then slowed down and we’re given a subtle hint of the middle eastern tones that become far more prevalent as the album goes on.
this album is simultaneously dense and hypnotic for those of us who want to fully immerse themselves…
Orphalese has an oboe introduction… and that’s a statement I’ve never made before whilst reviewing for The Shaman! This then moves into a combination of sitar-like guitar with a slide blues line – really different and totally effective. It’s all deceptively simple yet totally hypnotic – it’s the least doomy track on the album but it manages to be my favourite. We need more eastern-sounding metal – this has reminded me to go back and listen to some Orphaned Land – a hugely underappreciated band that wholeheartedly bring their cultural sounds and smells to metal.
Rubedo has a Zeppelin quality to it in some of the guitar work – it wouldn’t be out of place on Physical Graffiti (and there’s another album to put on the ‘must listen to again’ pile). By the time Pilgrim comes along, I am totally onboard with Messa’s eastern/Mediterranean sound. The musical conventions and scales are no longer something that I’m consciously thinking about whilst I’m listening – and it’s at this point that Messa comes and drops the most bluesy and doomy riff of the whole album on you! It’s dirty and scuzzy – it wouldn’t be out of place on an Electric Wizard album and it’s great stuff. Nine and a half minutes fly by.
I’m gonna make this next statement very carefully – a track like 0=2 could be played to a fan of Florence and the Machine without them feeling like they’ve been aurally assaulted (at least until the free-form solos at the end anyway!). What I’m trying to say here is that this album is simultaneously dense and hypnotic for those of us who want to fully immerse themselves, whilst also being superficially accessible for those who would normally run a mile at the mere mention of the word ‘doom’!
The intro to Serving Him goes all Wishbone Ash – which is always a good thing. It’s possibly the least challenging track on the album from a listener’s perspective, but somehow that works with it being the swansong. The track loops back to the relatively straightforward sounds of the opening track – I do like it when albums are sequenced in this way.
Is Close perfect? No. It’s a track or two too long for a start. But it’s certainly very, very good, and I find the progression that Messa are making from album to album really interesting. Both of their previous albums had some serious rotation in this house, and Close isn’t going to break that winning streak. It may well open the ears of a far wider audience too. I’d suggest it’d be worth catching them on their upcoming European tour if you can because I have a sneaking suspicion they’ll be playing far bigger halls next time round if Close performs as well as it deserves to.
Scribed by: David J McLaren