In my lengthy tenure as an AMG contributor, I can count on half a hand the number of albums that blindsided me as hard as Messa‘s debut Belfry did. I plucked it from the promo sump knowing zero about the upstart Italian doomsters and was soon hopelessly in the thrall of their eerie doom drone hybrid style. Naturally, Belfry was going to be a tough act to follow regardless what direction the young act decided to travel, and after a fairly short wait, we get their second album, Feast for Water. While their “occult blues from hell” sound is more or less intact, the band has moved away from the drone aspect and smoothed out their approach quite noticeably. Things feel a bit more restrained and refined, with a greater darkwave and jazz influence, and where they were unpredictable before, they now opt for greater subtly and polish. The album’s water-based theme is an appropriate one, as these compositions feel more fluid and winding, steering the listener through strange inlets and odd backwaters.
After a moody, dark intro piece that slowly ramps up into a disturbing, disorienting buzz, things immediately smooth out on “Snakeskin Drape,” with the sultry, soothing croon of frontwoman, Sara paired with water sounds and minimalist bass and guitar plucking. The respite doesn’t last long before things shift into an up-tempo doomer with a sludgy low-end set against Sara’s soaring voice and minimalist guitar harmonies. It works while demonstrating just how well the band pushes emotion buttons to keep the listener fully locked in.
And this is just the warm-up stretch before the brilliant 2 song run of “Leah” and “The Seer.” Leah” is a beautifully crafted blend of darkened jazz cabaret atmosphere and powerful, emotional doom. Sara’s vocal charisma is nigh irresistible, whether she’s cooing in sultry, soft tones or raising the roof to accentuate the heavy peaks of the music. She is firmly in command and you will pay attention. Her rapturous vocals from 5:40 onward are breathtaking, and the use of discordant, bare bones guitar-work throughout is brilliant. “The Seer” is another jaw dropper, using the same ingredients while introducing guitar-work reminiscent of Houses of the Holy era Led Zeppelin anchored to moods akin to Neurosis and early Trouble. It sounds strange on paper perhaps, but it’s wonderfully done. Sara dials into a rich blues-based delivery on the quiet segments as the band follows with sparse but sharp accompaniment, only to wrench the power up at just the right moment. As good as these songs are, the album high-point may well be “Tulsi,” which is the heaviest song on offer, using a stomping pace with blackened surges full of icy tremolos, blast beats and eerie cavernous moaning1. This is all spliced adroitly to hauntingly melodic guitar passages, impassioned vocals from Sara, and an especially sweet saxamaphone interlude.
So why the lower score than Belfry? Well, as great as some of these songs are, the album as a whole doesn’t carry the same seismic punch as Belfry. “She Knows” is a languid, overly restrained mood piece steeped in blues and jazz and while it’s nicely done, the nearly 8 minutes are too static and sedate, disrupting the album’s flow until it sublimely transitions into the mighty “Tulsi.” Closing instrumental “Da Tariki Tariqat” is moody, but also low-key and feels somewhat unsatisfying as a wrap to the proceedings, despite giving the rest of the band some time in the spotlight.
As with Belfry, Sara is the focal point of the Messa success story. Her smoldering, beguiling vocals cast a spell over the proceedings, elevating everything the band attempts. Whether she’s in sedate jazz club mode or in-your-face doom maiden fervor, her voice is the velvet glove concealing the iron fist. Alberto and Mark Sade are a formidable guitar duo, loading the album with all sorts of interesting riffs, harmonies and jams. There are doom leads to be found, but this seems less and less the point of what the band is after. There’s a lot more darkwave, post-metal and blues based playing in its place, most if it quite sharp and sticky. The duo’s adherence to a stripped down, minimalist philosophy serve them well, leaving a lot of space for Sara’s vocal magic and the rock solid rhythm section.
Feast for Water is 50 minutes of darkly emotional music difficult to pigeonhole with a genre label, and Messa show once again just how talented and unique they are. It may be a bit too refined and subdued overall, but it’s still a righteous piece of hypnotic weirdness, and very much worth your money and time. Drink deeply.