MESSIAH – Fracmont (2020)REVIEW

Quid est veritas? Ecce Armagedōn! — A former politician in exile washes away the blood of the supposed Christ in the waters of his own grave atop a ‘cracked’ holy mountain, one of many rumored places of cursed and/or blessed rest for Pontius Pīlātus. The never ending wriggling of unabashedly biased zealot historian tendrils reverberate through the corpse of history, some would deify the man who’d sentenced their “messiah” to death as witness to the passion and others would portray the man as rueful, corrupt and culturally insensitive. There can be no facts in this case, though, as biographical accounts of Roman governors weren’t popular reading until the industrial revolution had scared intellectuals back into their auld and poorly translated books; Theologians and the many revisions of the bible had their say long before stones and pillars could speak their peace. The glory of the mountain (Pilatus) itself yet survives as inspiration for mythos big enough to represent the grand shape and mystère of its jagged presence, a beast with many backs. Countless myths and legends (religious or not) speak to the power of great heavenly peaks in the distance to stir the imagination of the artist below. The artist in the case of ‘Fracmont‘, the sixth full-length album from Swiss extreme thrash metal pioneers Messiah, comes via the foot of the mountain where the mind of guitarist Brögi would craft lore and mythos as wild, deranged and biting as the characteristic-yet-evolved riffing he has brought to this long-awaited and appreciably grand event.

A storied mountain in view south of Lucerne is its own fitting analogue for a band that has been looming in the distance since extreme metal’s unknowing birth in the early 80’s. From my frequently stated point of view Messiah were one of the most extreme bands on the planet circa 1986 and they’d only gotten better as time progressed, signing to the popular Noise Records label and leaving several classic gems of extreme metal behind to be mined (for many) at a much later date. The gritty death/thrash reality of their grand sacrilege ‘Choir of Horrors‘ (1991) and the incredible ‘Psychomorphia’ EP that preempted the album earlier that year represents my favorite discovery in death/thrash metal, ever and the absolute highest standard in mind. It was less than ten years beyond their final album (‘Underground‘, 1994) that the band would reunite for the sake of their fans and to celebrate the twenty year anniversary for the band. I believe some members had wanted to continue on with this reconnected ‘1990-1994’ line-up beyond the reunion but without an album in mind to push things along it’d never been taken on. In the last several years compilations and another reunion tour in mind have shown the band that folks are quite willing and eager to see them back at the pulpit and by all reports ‘Fracmont’ was the condition of another reunion circa 2017 and that they do their legacy proud in the process. Well, if you don’t mind my obvious use of language here, this is certainly the “mountain” that so many long-running acts attempt and fail as so many are not as “fit” or savvy enough to recapture the magic of their classic work, much less translate where they are today without losing that charming fumbled ‘old school’ attitude. One could easily justify this notion of a new Messiah album as a bit of a “miracle, if good” situation within even the most enchanted fandom but, they’ve actually pulled it off.

Instead of bumbling back through their teenaged years Messiah have naturally defaulted to the early 90’s era of their sound, a structure and pace that accurately resembles their sensibilities circa 1989-1994. That isn’t to say that ‘Fracmont’ is a direct emulation of ‘Choir of Horrors’ and/or (the under-appreciated) ‘Rotten Parish‘ (1992) but a spiritual succession via technique, pacing, tone, and the dramatic hand of Brögi at a point of peak inspiration being honed via the involvement of the full band. They’ve been quite clear about doing things the “right” way, writing together in rehearsal and not farming it over the internet, despite that process likely being much easier. Considering the mounds of expectations and pressurized, starving fandom built over the last two decades it was incredibly bold of the band to announce new material in early 2018 despite not having any notion of where the writing sessions would go. This is perhaps the confidence of craftsmen and professionals at work, a virtue of age and experience I greatly appreciate, because ‘Fracmont’ shows no real sign of slip-shod or harried preparation; If anything the process found all performers and parts absolutely sure of what Messiah was back in the early 90’s and now naturally invoking what their sound could be today. If you were taking a cursory glance at the material without any patience you could say that ‘Fracmont’ collapses and extrudes the ’84-’94 run of the project via memorable characteristics but, you’d be totally missing the screaming harass of the early work and the wooden groove of their later stuff. What would I call it, then? Epic death/thrash metal.

Consider the introductory pairing of “Sacrosanctus Primitivus” and “Fracmont” as a very close analogue to the ‘Psychomorphia’ EP complete with angelic choir intro and a staggering 9+ minute riff-heavy death/thrash opus attached. Granted the title track has a lot to say in the span of these first ten minutes but as a listener this was a sign that Messiah are counting on your patience and attention to detail for this return, this is not ‘junk food’ or instant gratification (beyond the strong production and guitar tone) but rather a very intensely achieved piece that is beautifully composed. You’ll also likely note that the track is generally mid-paced and I’d suggest that not only was ‘Choir of Horrors’ generally not as “fast” as you remember but that you’ll find much of ‘Fracmont’ keeps up, there is just a lot of it hence the ‘epic’ death/thrash metal tag I’ve given it. Marvel in the majesty of the sound design, the tale it serves to narrate, and meet this new Messiah on their own terms. “Fracmont” is perhaps one of the most lyrically compelling pieces the band has ever put out as it is essentially the life and death of Pontius Pilate in prose but since there is no certain history of this man things go to incredibly imaginative places, showcasing a bit of the irreligious horror inherent to most any era of the band. Unnatural events pock the unfolding story into a cryptic legend of Pilate‘s life and the curse of his final resting place; Historians have long asked for the missing judgement from ‘God’ for the execution of Jesus and in some ways these events feel grotesquely biblical in their description. The themes are equally irreverent and inspired throughout, largely in keeping with the criticism of blind faith, religious beliefs and the destructive effect religion brings to the nature of mankind. To do so without appearing immature or jocular has long been an admirable trait that continues to define the Messiah experience.

I am such a fan of those 90’s albums that I could very well pick through each song and draw reasonable comparisons to the past, such as the “Weeping Willow”-esque flits of “Singularity” and the ‘Rotten Perish’ attuned beats on “My Flesh – Your Soul”. But this isn’t at all the point of the album or much of a pastime. There are far more “new” moments and brilliant developments in hand to grouse and glow over, none of which necessarily rely on the whole idea that it has been 25+ years between albums. The sensation I’d gotten when approaching groove heavy songs like “Morte al Dente” and the more galloping epic heavy metal sound of “Children of Faith” and “Miracle Far Beyond Disaster” was comparable to the return of (another favorite band) Satan back in 2013 with ‘Life Sentence’: They’ve still got it and they’re a bit different. Hell in this case the pieces fit a bit better in some ways (vocals more expressive, drums beautifully rendered, guitar and bass interplay more dynamic, etc.) than they did back in the day. The inspired soul of the project is yet resonant and not being “farmed” in any sort of ghoulish way. If they were not on a such a roll taking the Messiah sound to new and exciting places I’d probably suggest ~50 minutes is a bit long for a classic return but this isn’t for the sake of too many ideas but representative of this ‘epic’ death/thrash metal style the band are employing where the pace is deliberate and the riffs come as austere movements and Manilla Road-worthy sojourns (they did cover “Dreams of Eschaton” back in the day, eh!). So, without belaboring the point ‘Fracmont’ is not a fast hit of derivative death/thrash designer drugs, but rather a unique and natural high achieved via an inspired greater work. It will take some patience and attention to soak into but the investment is entirely enriching.

For the sake of letting the album speak its truth unperturbed by any more of my fanboy rambling, you’ve gotten the idea: Messiah still have it and they’ve whirled it like true ‘old school’ sorcerers here. This isn’t cheap retro thrash, it isn’t dull groove metal, and they don’t at all sound bored with the grand potential of the Messiah sound taken into 2020. The nearly hour long spin of it all will pace nicely via my chosen vinyl format and I couldn’t be more impressed with this “unlikely hero” here in early September. ‘Fracmont’ is not the first, or likely the last, among “dream come true” albums that will help me recall 2020 as a major favorite for releases but it is perhaps the longest awaited. Highest recommendation.

Highest recommendation.

Rating: 10 out of 10.
LABEL(S):High Roller Records
RELEASE DATE:September 11th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [Digipak],
HRR Webstore [EU]
GENRE(S):Epic Death/Thrash Metal

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