Feast for Water, the new album from Italian four-piece Messa, fittingly begins with the gurgling and bubbling we’ve come to expect from intro tracks on stoner albums, but it soon becomes clear that this is a far cry from the bong-sucking herd of ‘Funeralopolis’. Instead, a profusion of textures herald the arrival of Messa’s second album, from shrieking synths to ponderous strings, sonorous vocals and Ghost-like guitars (distorted? Yes! Oppressive? No!).
The writing is tight, with no riff held to the point of exhaustion whilst the band squeeze every available drop out of the melodies. ‘Leah’ shows a little more excess with its feedback-based opening riff before pulling back to reveal a panned Rhodes piano and cymbal-led jazz drums, with a choppy guitar solo to match. Comparisons have already been drawn to Windhand and Bohren & Der Club Of Gore, but it’s equally reminiscent of The Dead Weather’s bluesy experiments, or even a bad-trip Portishead – an intriguing fusion of doom’s more grandiose melancholy and softly-softly club jazz.
Perhaps even more impressive is the cohesion between the two styles. Messa have nailed the transition between heavy and light, relying on the genres’ shared territory of blues to manage the transitions. The opening section of ‘The Seer’ bears more than a passing resemblance to Led Zeppelin’s ‘No Quarter’, before once again settling into a charming verse led by Sara’s earthy-yet-ascendant vocal tones; the quick licks in between lines are rooted in blues too, as if Graveyard had stumbled into a ritual doom concert. ‘She Knows’ is perhaps the highlight of the album, showing each side of the band’s writing at its peak. The track is introduced so quietly as if to catch the listener unawares before leading into cascades of guitar; when the track leads into ‘Tulsi’, with its blast-beats and semi-jammed lead lines, we’re once again taken by surprise.
Although the album is a striking listen and covers a huge range of sounds and compositional ideas, it sometimes seems like Messa are caught between their favoured styles. When the guitars are at their heaviest, they’re still restrained and respectful; when the jazz verses hit, the extra timbres and counter-melodies of a horn section would really complete the spectrum. Of course, there are practical limitations at play here and the band is clearly attempting to capture a crowd besotted with dark-jazz, but Feast of Water seems like the sophomore effort it is, with the band still perfecting its niche. The album cover, with its juxtaposition of ‘50s formatting and the band’s logo small, like an afterthought, seems to suggest the same internal division.
However, the recordings on display show incredible dexterity and quality musicianship throughout, and it would be foolish to assume that this is a poor showing by any means. Rather, we’re given a work that points the way to even greater heights.
Feast For Water is out now on Aural Music. Purchase here.
Words: David Burke