When I first came across Messa's 2016 EP,
, it took me a couple of listens to grasp just what made them special. The band's formula was familiar enough—the occult trappings, the sultry vocals, the low-slung riffs, and smokey atmosphere all summoned the likenesses of Jex Thoth and Windhand, rendered in shades of deep claret and black gold. As I listened more closely, though, Messa's wildcard approach became more and more apparent. They were doing the occult doom thing, sure, but there was more going on. There was dark ambient. There was drone. There was…
On the Italian quartet's new album, Feast for Water (out April 6 via Aural Music), they've embraced those outré elements with a vengeance, dipping further into their well of influences, and doubling down on the jazz on songs like the understated, velvety "Leah," or the meandering, 70s-flecked "Tulsi"—which, in their hands, comes across as smooth but complex, like fine wine, with a dusky, lush tone that feels almost Satanic in its decadence. Vocalist Sara (who also plays bass for grindcore outfit Restos Humanos) has perfected her throaty Stevie Nicks howl, which comes drenched in reverb and echoes like distant thunder on quietly menacing tracks like "Snakeskin Drape." The album certainly has plenty of satisfyingly heavy moments (and sport a killer fuzzy guitar tone), too, but Messa shines brightest when they hit softest.
"We like to think that Feast for Water is the second part of the mass we began with Belfry," the band told Noisey in a statement. "It’s centered on the introspective, symbolic and ritual features of that liquid element. We chose that concept because it represents an idea of beginning, of fluid power, of pureness and simplicity. Water has always been important in rituals as a gateway to initiation. The tone of this record represents this concept very clearly. We tried to achieve a more ‘submerged’ sound instead of getting the usual fuzzy, wide-open guitars in order to give the listener a feeling of apnea. The choice of including Rhodes piano undoubtedly made everything sound more ‘jazzy,’ very diverse from the fuzziness of our first record Belfry. This album is more complex and thoughtful, the songwriting is less about improvisation. We chose to convey darker vibes. All in this record is tightly related to water. We like to think that the cover speaks for itself."
It can be a dicey prospect to marry jazz and metal—two of the fussiest, most willfully complicated genres known to humankind—but when it works, it really works. Messa channels the kind of jazz that I like best, too; smoky, human, more "Strange Fruit" than skronky free jazz improv or impenetrable time signatures. It's certainly a unique approach, and adds an interesting dynamic to their overall sound. If occult doom as a genre is going to progress, or evolve, it's going to need to start embracing this kind of forward-thinking experimentation, and Messa are leading the way.
Dive on into Feast for Water below, and preorder it here
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