Messa – Belfry

Anyone with an interest in the metal scene at large can’t have missed the huge wave of revivalist bands playing traditional doom metal to come about in the last ten years. Powered by a penchant for pot and Pentagram there’s been scores of bands aiming to bring the psychedelia and riffs of seventies doom into the modern day metal scene, so it wouldn’t seem at the first instance that Italians Messa are doing a lot that’s different from the groups that are to be found semi-constantly in dingy local venues bashing out Black Sabbath covers. But while at the surface they seem at first to be another bluesy doom band with sultry female vocals, their music is more expertly crafted than most bands in the scene, not only with the drone and ambient elements thrown in, but some of their songs have unexpected twists and turns, and as such they really stand out from the crowd, with an excellent debut album. .

Amplifier feedback and droning distorted guitars fill the entirety of the opening piece Alba, occult chanting sounding like the drone doom experiments of Boris and Sunn O)))and creating a dark atmosphere over it’s four minute length. I’m sure if they’d have gone for this noisy drone sound throughout the whole album I’m sure it still would’ve been brilliant, but with a hiss of feedback they move into the first track proper Babylon with a slow groovy bluesy riff and plodding drums filled with cymbal crashes. So far so Sabbath. But where most bands would amp up the tempo right about here, they go the other way, distortion dropping and guitar notes hanging in the air before fading out against the occasional cymbal to let Sara’s voice take centre stage. Her voice is soft and soulful, a pretty but gloomy tone that fits with the occult atmosphere, before the riff returns and she bursts forth into a more generic but powerful doomy style laced in slight but effective psychedelic reverb – her voice is much better when she sings softly but it still fits the style of music.

It’s the pacing of the music with its sojourns into ambient territory in Babylon and Blood that make Messa’s music stand out from the crowd and also deliver an emotional edge that other bands in the scene don’t deliver so much. They’re skilled musicians who are adept at building up to a section where a speedy riff or a solo should fly forward but they take it back down. The way they play in these ambient parts with the instruments laced in reverb, each note echoing until it fades away creates a great sense of tension – and it also makes the great riffs stand out all the more when they do amp it back up. An album that’s predominantly metal but keeps you just as invested during frequent sections when the distortion drops is to be commended. On the other two instrumental tracks Tomba’s use of synth tones and found sounds make it a great piece of dark ambient, whilst the dense droning textures on Bell Tower evoke a sense of gloom that perfectly matches the cover.

The most straight forward track on the album is Hour of the Wolf,  beginning with soft bluesy rock and singing for the first few minutes, before they turn on the metal with a big catchy riff a la Pentagram in one of the parts on the album they play somewhat fast, with simple bluesy riffs and an Iommi-esque solo the track really rips over it’s near eight minute length. Blood is more occult and dark with a more caustic atmosphere coming from uglier sludgy riffs drenched in more distortion and eerie ambient parts (the flute is certainly unexpected)

With the psychedelic female vocals and the obvious influences from Pentagram and Black Sabbath it would be easy to dismiss Messa as just another group in the 70’s revivalist scene, but with a great sense of pacing and skill they’re as adept at creating droning ambient as at doom metal, making them really stand out of the pack – delivering darker emotional sections before getting you nodding away to catchy bluesy riffs.

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