I don’t know what makes something “avant-garde.” I remember going to an avant-garde art museum in Santa Fe, NM, where there was a movie exhibit of a haircut. Literally, two men and one woman get an identical buzzed haircut in the shade of a gazebo in the mountains of China. There’s new age music plucking around back there, walls are lined with identical shots of their new haircuts, and shadow boxes of locks of hair covered the floor. It was weird and challenging and difficult to understand, but I think about it a lot. So, if that’s what’s avant-garde, Messora ain’t it, even if the promo bin lords designate it as such. Instead, this Montreal trio opts for accessibility, with a range of influences from groove to metalcore and a strong DIY attitude in debut The Door.
The Door is a guitarist’s album, as central member and founder Zach Dean performs guitar and vocals, and does so with intense gusto. Influences range from Gojira, Tool, Lamb of God, Psycroptic, and Children of Bodom, which sounds neither interesting nor unique,1 but Messora makes it work, creating a hella tight sound that incorporates it all into one potent wallop. Featuring the groovy metalcore of Ashes of the Wake as its core, Gothenburg melodies of Follow the Reaper, the technicality of Ob(servant), and the chunky angular heaviness of From Mars to Sirius, all through the sprawling progressive songwriting of Fear Inoculum and even featuring spiraling blackened tinges of Akercocke, these Quebecois make an album of pure energy and saccharine wizardry.
Right out of the gates, the title track shows exactly what we’re getting into, sporting galloping riffs with melodic flourishes and roaring blackened vocals. It, as well as other showstopper, “The Falling Star,” feature unrelenting speed that would feel right at home in a Lamb of God mosh pit, complete with crazy technical guitar solos and skull-crushing riffs. Meanwhile the brutal “The Veil” and “The Tide” lean more toward the thick chugging slogs of Gojira, complete with dissonant pinch harmonics and earth-moving sludgy undertones. Interlude acoustic tracks “Tethered” and “Untethered” also give much-needed reprieve from the shreds, including some interesting flamenco influence, clean vocals, and even spoken word samples. Kudos to the mix of Jonathan Lefrancois-Leduc, who puts the guitar right into the spotlight with crisp and punchy tones, while the other instruments stand to complement it. The songwriting is also of note, as track lengths are actually somewhat daunting on paper (the shortest regular track being five and a half minutes, the longest almost ten), but they certainly do not limp on the way that some artists do.
In truth, there is only one major flaw in The Door, but its implications are difficult to avoid. While the majority of the album features melodeath- and groove-inspired metalcore riffs galore with little relent, track “The Pond” attempts to slow things down in a decidedly ominous way. While tracks offer minor key melodies akin to Akercocke, it attempts to utilize open-strummed chords to the effect of a dark atmosphere. However, it simply feels too long, even though it’s the shortest regular track, and too repetitive to be effective. In terms of album tone, the placements of the flamenco-inspired acoustic interludes “Tethered” and “Untethered” are odd and can derail the energetic atmosphere. Nitpicking, tracks like “The Veil” and “The Falling Star” feature somewhat unimpressive breakdown sections, which are blessedly brief and quickly morph back into the groovy shreds we all came for. While the mix is incredibly favorable to guitar, it can neglect the other instruments: bass is inaudible and drums are solid but not standout, while vocals are pushed to the back.
But really, this is fine. In the end, Messora offers a ridiculously fun guitar album of ear candy. The musicianship is ridiculously tight and the songwriting is accessible, but as seen in the one damnable track “The Pond,” The Door is a bit of a one-trick pony, specializing in speedy technicality and genre-bending riffs, but there’s little else behind the tasty veil. Perhaps oxymoronically, it’s a bit of a shapeshifter, channeling Lamb of God, Children of Bodom, and Gojira seamlessly, often within the same passage. While their range of influences sounds like something the edgy skater kid in high school would rip off of Limewire in the early 2000s, these Quebecois make it memorably tight and infectiously fun. The Door may not make it to any year-end lists, but it will get your head moving and your toe tapping. But it’s still not avant-garde… or is it?