A long time, on a blog far, far away, when I was not yet even a learner n00b, an Angry Metal Ape reviewed haunting Italian doomsters, Messa’s debut Belfry and its follow up Feast for Water. The debut, in particular, blew away our Steely Primate. And while I am not sure to what degree his prediction has come true that Messa’s “name will be on people’s tongues soon enough,” it bloody well should have. Both albums were stunning (although it was the sophomore effort that captivated me, more than their debut). It was with some surprise, therefore, that I found Little Albert, the side project from Messa’s lead guitarist Alberto Piccolo, sitting, all alone and unmolested in the promo swamp.
Billed as a “fusion between stoner/doom and delta blues,” you can hear the seeds of Little Albert’s debut, Swamp King, clearly in Piccolo’s outstanding guitar work in his day job, and on Feast for Water, in particular. As a conservatoire graduate in jazz guitar from Treviso, Italy, perhaps it was inevitable that Piccolo would want to flex his blues muscles beyond the confines of Messa, and Little Albert certainly sees him doing that. The stoner-doom elements on Swamp King are limited, with the blues influence of legends like Muddy Waters and the more recent, but still hugely influential, Joe Bonamassa taking centre stage, from the moment the title track opens the record. Across its relatively short 31-minute runtime, Swamp King maintains a languorous, dreamy quality, with “Bridge of Sighs” and the middle portion of “Blues Asteroid” the only tracks to noticeably up the stoner / psychedelia quota.
Piccolo’s gorgeous and soulful blues guitar is, undoubtedly and unsurprisingly, the centre piece of Swamp King but he also handles vocals for Little Albert, and does so pretty impressively, it has to be said. With a delicate, clear voice, his vocals – clean throughout, in case there was any question – recall the softer moments of Graveyard’s Joakim Nilsson, with just a hint of Hexvessel vocalist Mathew Kvohst McNerney’s fragility thrown in there. Meanwhile, and without doing anything earth shattering, bassist Christian Guidolin and drummer Mattia Zambon provide the perfect anchor for Piccolo’s wandering, soaring guitar lines.
The more time I’ve spent in Little Albert’s company, the more I’ve felt … that’s the start to a sentence that could go horribly wrong. Let’s try again: the more I’ve listened to Swamp King – yes, ironically, I feel like I’m on firmer ground here – the more it’s grown on me. From the first, Piccolo’s talent as a guitarist is undeniable, although that was plain already from his work with Messa. His confidence on mic duties is impressive also and yet, somehow, Little Albert lacks the staying power I want … oh, FFS, here we go again. For all the stellar work on show from the musicians on Swamp King and the gorgeous sound throughout, I came away from my few spins struggling to recall that many details of it. While some parts of the record, “Bridge of Sighs” – perhaps because it has a markedly different, more stoner driven feel, than the rest of Swamp King – and the upbeat, almost funk of closer “Outside Woman Blues” slowly wormed their into my brain, other parts remain distinctly hazy.
Let’s be frank, as with the likes of Emma Ruth Rundle and her association with Red Sparowes, the only reason Little Albert is appearing on these pages, is Piccolo’s work with Messa. And that’s fine by me. Little Albert may not have not left the sort of lasting impression on me that Messa’s Feast for Water did, but it is an enjoyable and pleasing listen, that came as a breath of refreshingly fresh air following a diet of (admittedly excellent) atmospheric black metal and metalcore recently. A well-crafted and totally bloat-free blues rock record, Swamp King is a solid but unremarkable first outing. Will I revisit Swamp King? Undoubtedly. Regularly? Probably not, in all likelihood.