Patched up denim vest. Check. Slayer tour t-shirt. Check. Grown out hair. Check. Devil horns hand sign. Check. Pants and combat boots. Check. Now let’s spin some metal! Or, are we?
For a lot of bands mingling different styles merely is a way to show off their skills. Yet, we can’t help but notice that in today’s music scene more and more bands fuse together genres as a way to create something different. Khruangbin’s cross cultural mix-up is a nice example of a new sound that critics are not able to pinpoint. Of course Khruangbin’s style is as far from heavy rock as it gets, yet we observe that the same development also found its way to the louder musical spectrums. Last year’s collab between The Body and Big Brave was a triumphant work of cultural fusion by two alt-metal outfits. Luckily there is a lot more where that came from so next up on our list is Italy’s Messa.
The four piece group was founded by Sara Bianchin and Marco Zanin in 2014 and is described as a doom metal band by various online sources. This classification is however too shallow if you realise that Bianchin and Zanin in essence bonded over the German ambient-jazz ensemble Bohren & der Club of Gore. On their debut Belfry (2016) doomy riffs and Bianchin’s powerful vocals therefore are often interchanged with ambient episodes. Now Messa’s third, Close, lies in front of us and by the look of the cover photo we wonder if culture metal-ish deep dive awaits us.
On ten songs that together take an hour to complete, Messa treats us to a wide range of crushing riffs. While there is nothing new about that it’s the jazzy influences, also heard on their previous work Feast For Water (2018), that give a twist to the sonic experience. The tranquil piano intro and jazz guitar break on opener Suspended are expertly placed within the song’s template. Also a saxophone groove is a prominent part of Orphalese and returns in avant garde fashion on 0=2. Messa however doesn’t double down on this doom metal acid jazz combination. Instead the band takes regular entic turns by bringing in sounds of the Maghreb.
Pilgrim and the aforementioned Orphalese are the most notable metal to Arabic songs of Close. Slow monolithic riffs still are the backbone of these songs but these leave a lot of space for Bianchin’s impressive voice to shine and exotic textures to bloom. On Pilgrim for example we hear an Arabic lute called the oud dictate the pace while Bianchin sets an ominous mood. Messa also doesn’t shun to pick up the pace every now and then. On Dark Horse and Rubedo the band gears up almost immediately but stays in control of the dynamics. Only Rubedo seems to derail into a prog metal song which feels out of tone when compared to the rest of the album. Another good way to characterise the album is by both interludes. Hollow’s oriental oud solo and Leffotrak’s full on grunt metal are both outlier and between these extremes Messa sets up shop.
In the end Close isn’t an album that is ahead of its time. For one, various other metal outfits have flirted with Arabic sounds before and more importantly, Messa stays too close to their doom roots to be called progressive. On the other hand the Italians do expand their still modest catalogue with some strong extensive heavyweight tracks that once more touches the world of jazz and also dare to explore the other side of the Mediterranean in the proces. It’s clear Messa does have the guts to go their own way and isn’t that what musicianship is all about? At the very least Close is a very solid work of doom with a refreshing take on the genre. And maybe, just maybe at best could well be a forerunner of something genre-defining in the near future. Rest assured, whatever happens, we’ll be here to report.
Label: Svart Records, 2022
Buy it here: https://messaproject.bandcamp.com/album/close
- Suspended (7:16)
- Dark Horse (7:28)
- Orphalese (7:07)
- Rubedo (6:41)
- Hollow (1:20)
- Pilgrim (9:26)
- 0-2 (10:30)
- If You Want Her to Be Taken (6:07)
- Leffotrak (0:44)
- Serving Him (8:02)
- Sara Bianchin – vocals
- Marco Zanin – bass, acoustic guitar, vocals, synth, dulcimer
- Alberto Piccolo – guitar, oud, mandolin, moog bass, Rhodes piano
- Rocco Toaldo – drums, percussions
Review by Wander Meulemans // 140522