MESSA – Close (2022)REVIEW

This second full-length from Padua, Italy-based quartet Messa conceptually does away with any reliance on clear-cut stylistic duality within their sound, a whittling away of too-sharp contrasts, and assumedly does so for the sake of intimacy and personae, that which is readable near and far within earshot of their sometimes-droning, increasingly fine harmonization; A sound which stretches seventies-enriched heavy rock handiwork unto moderne doom-lifted musical statement. Within the process of reaching this smoothest flowing point of refinement they’ve discovered, or rather curated, a ‘self’ bigger than prior sub-genrefication which now serves us the forest, the trees and even a strong shot of Mediterranean flavor and jazz-modal movement along the way. ‘Close‘ sets our vitals in the throes of affecting atmosphere, forcing the lungs to adjust beyond the post-stoney n’ droning shock of the past and instead thrive within this easier ride along the curves of its spiritually charged vistae.

Comprised of folks associated with the Italian extreme metal and stoner rock underground Messa took a few years to warm up beyond formation in 2014, steadily crafting their own juxtaposition between calmest, bluesy ambiance and huge growling riff and ensuring ‘Belfry‘ (2016) was a big deal. That debut for Auric Records was an unearthly statement from a worldly occult rock influenced sound, bearing some implication of drone and good ole Sabbath grooves stretched and mauled into shamanic, inspired events. These Italians were arguably at thier grittiest on said debut, soon maturing and upping the overall fidelity of their second album (‘Feast for Water‘, 2018) to a bit of a hit, wherein their whole gig wasn’t so stuck on the somewhat predictable loud-quiet-loud dynamic. This in turn granted Messa a reputation centered around grey area between esoteric doom metal and occult/doom rock with a bit of a modern-edged sense of sound design, working their water-attuned theme into the flow of the record. That second album had rightfully been a success, calling for a repress or two and I think few were surprised to see Messa soon drawn to their very fitting home with Svart for this third album.

Close‘ is less a step towards organic feeling and more an, again, refinement of sonic concept directed by its professional render, severe tone, and dramatic progression. The goal appears to be both a more professional recording alongside more personal, representative music which is more a ‘sound’ than a gimmick to the discerning ears who’d engage the bevvy of post-rock, doom metal, drone, and heavy psychedelic rock possibilities. They’ve done this by approaching what most will identify as middle eastern or, perhaps more correctly, Mediterranean melodic statements, instrumental sidebars and progressions which reflect the personalities or identities of the musicians, I assume at least. Of course there is already plenty of precedence for these movements in both traditional heavy rock and late 70’s doom metal but we see an incredibly freshened, engaged treatment within the album’s first single “Pilgrim“, a piece which should draw the ear of fans of everything from the grungy stoner doom lucidity of Windhand to the dreamy occult psych-doom of Occultation where the atmosphere is purposefully unique yet the song’s purpose is still clearly the power of the riff.

Patience is key here and the goal is immersion, the listener is tasked with less a state of hanging on every word and more a warmly resigned seated appreciation for the easier yet still Sisyphean roll of Messa on this third album. The jagged, dark abyssal ridges of ‘Belfry‘ are still living through the stratospheres reached herein, though, as opener “Suspended” finds its soar and trundling movement in muted electric guitar, downtempo soft-jazz boogie and anthemic fuzz n’ post-metal sized anthemic ride. That first piece sets the tone for the first LP, this being a double LP at roughly ~65 minutes in length, and “Dark Horse” gives us a most clear and readable extension beyond ‘Feast for Water‘ giving us the extreme metal tipped blade of revivalist heavy psychedelic/occult rock in a new-skinned way. As they reach the point of statement beyond roughly ~3:45 minutes into the piece I’d found this was a defining moment for the album in terms of its sound no longer resembling sewn together flesh of many ages and instead something familiar yet owned by its performative conviction, their sights set on a mode that is spiritually retro-futuristic.

“Orphalese” precedes yet reinforces statements made by “Pilgrim” expanding upon these specific regional inflections using the saxophone, duduk (performed by Giorgio Trombino of Assumption/Bottomless) and oud for a bit of a drum circular, transitional piece of equally long measure which comes unexpected yet mercifully placed between increasingly anthemic long-form pieces. For what its worth the first six songs on this ten-titled event hadn’t felt overstated or, droning with similar energy, until I’d probably run through the full listen about 10-12 times. The spectacle of the listening experience was engrossing enough that I’d overlooked its insistent, demanding dramatism too often arrived at a ‘dramatic student film/car commercial’ pace if you get my meaning. Being bought in but not entirely sold, I’d found this was less an album to leave on a repeat and rather one to savor and shelve in moderation as its magick was perhaps meant in doses rather than in binges for texture and hook hounding ears.

Perhaps the strongest piece for my own taste, “If You Want Her To Be Taken” sets up the most succinct and perhaps crunchiest bit of contrast between bluesy post-music dramatism, ethereal electric doom-rock, and the heavy metal wailing tendencies of the lead guitars. It’d been even more of a clincher when I’d mistakenly thought “Leffotrak” was part of the whole rather than its own piece — The 45 second grind of it is the one piece here which fully dissolves into a black metal-esque breakdown, rushing out of the prior song with a brief but fiery moment that plumes upward as if spirited away by flaming incantation. Though there is precedence for this sort of outburst in their own discography we’ve seen similarly affecting rushes from groups like Gggolddd and Blackwater Holylight these last few years and the ‘edge’ available to Messa is that they seem to have not lost their occult rocking selves despite the strong evolution into modern rock standards felt throughout ‘Close‘; They’ve a bit of timeless something floating around in skull and it helps create distinction in the ever-evolving doomed rock spectrum.

“Serving Him” pulls us back into servitude for the grand daimonian spectre gripping us all but more importantly this is one of several pieces on the full listen that finds vocalist Bianchin belting it out, carrying the impact of the song entirely despite the rhythm guitar progression being the major directive elsewhere. This performance left me torn more often than not as I sat in reflection of each listen, wondering where this absolute soul bursting sort of fire was for the first half of the experience and yet hopeful that this is an implication of what we’ll see more of in Messa‘s future wherein the gut-sung blues is their anchor in heart and such a strong feature. ‘Close‘ is just the right distance between heaviness, tradition, and esoteric beauty for my own taste, a captivating full listen that’d definitely creeped up slow-and-easy over time before it’d stunned me in full view. One of the finer releases of March and deserving of a high recommendation to be sure.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Svart Records
RELEASE DATE:March 11th, 2022

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