Messa – Feast For Water Review

Sometimes it’s good to begin with where you intend to end up: Messa’s Feast for Water is an unhurriedly brilliant album that overflows with truly remarkable songcraft and a consistently enthralling atmosphere. If you’d like an even shorter punchline: go buy this album right now.

Feast for Water is this Italian band’s second album, and while it doesn’t necessarily represent a wholesale reinvention from their already very good debut Belfry, it improves on Belfry in every possible regard. Is Feast for Water particularly heavy? Well, despite having a fairly clear backwards trajectory to doom, no, it’s not. And, despite having some superficial similarities with some of the more notable names in so-called “occult doom” (e.g., The Devil’s Blood, Windhand), Messa seems to bring in influences from slightly farther flung sounds. This means that at various points throughout Feast for Water, you might hear Witch Mountain, Elder, Reino Ermitano, Lotus Thief, Sinistro, or even SubRosa.

The instrumental opener “Naunet” sets the stage with its distant, mournful pulls of cello that are gradually subsumed by the build of a needling feedback, the swarm of which is almost unbearable before it finally yields to the aching thrum of bass, wide open and unrushed that opens “Snakeskin Drape.” This is an album that the more you examine and parcel it out, the more immaculate its compositions and refulgent atmosphere are revealed to be; and yet, in just sitting and listening to this beautiful work of art, it never feels excessively labored over. So although the bridge that follows the first verse of “Snakeskin Drape” is so tremendous in its construction that it nearly defies belief, what really sells the song is how Messa’s singer Sara’s vocals fall so easily into a careworn chorus with the guitars, which in turn fire up solos with a live, crackling electricity very much like Elder’s summer-haze shimmer.

Much like Witch Mountain, Messa really taps into the blues heritage of Black Sabbath’s genre-originating doom, and lead guitarist Alberto’s tone and style are somewhat reminiscent of Rob Wrong’s. A song like “Leah” may be more outwardly invested in doom, but even so, the big fuck-off riff that forms its central motif is used as punctuation and scene-setting, not as the main focus. Every time it returns (along with the almost tongue-in-cheek brilliance of Rocco’s ride cymbal hit on the third beat), it’s as a nearly post-hypnotic suggestion: something felt but not perceived. The guitar solo is almost Mark Knopfler-smooth, but even better is the impassioned vocal chorale that it leads into.

Release date: April 6, 2018.
Label: Aural Music.
Feast for Water is a confident, generous, open-hearted album that knows its many strengths but has no need to brag or bluster. Just listen to how cockily and smoothly the band jaunts into a slow 6/8 on “The Seer,” and how carefully Sara’s vocals build and push the band on to that instrumental twang of a chorus, and then, around 5:30 or so in, they return to the 6/8 of the verse, but at double-speed and full steam ahead strength, before pulling WAY back into a huge doom riff. One of the most interesting tensions throughout the album is the contrast between the relative sharpness of Sara’s vocals and the reverbed, almost aquatically diffuse sound of the instruments. Although Sara’s vocal lines are often being belted out with significant power, they’re set back a ways in the mix. This production choice serves to highlight the laser-focus purity of her tone while not overpowering the intricate interplay between the rest of the instrumentation. The guitars and bass are warm, bordering on fuzzed-out, and the thump and crack of the drums are slightly muffled in such a way that the resonant wash of the cymbals blends in with the rounded edges of the guitars. It’s a beguiling sound that allows the band to appear sneakily unified even when each of the instruments is doing something different. (See, for example, the first driving verse of “Snakeskin Drape,” where Alberto’s lead guitar plucks out an acrobatic arpeggio in the right channel while Marco’s bass and rhythm guitar scoot along underneath.)

 

The Rhodes piano on “She Knows” lends a bit of a jazz noir vibe to the start of the album’s second half. Throughout Feast for Water, Sara modulates her tone, timbre, and phrasing in a dizzying array of understated and subtle ways. Listen to the two times she sings “She knows” in that song’s chorus; focus carefully, and you can hear how she twists the phrase with an ever so slight difference. Furthermore, the seamless transition from “She Knows” to “Tulsi” is exactly the kind of alchemy that very few bands can pull off. Even more astonishing is the modal drift of “Tulsi” that blasts off into periodic eruptions of near black metal ferocity (here’s where you might pick up on some similarities with Lotus Thief, or even Urfaust’s wonderful Empty Space Meditation). The tenor saxophone that blows through the final third of “Tulsi” is just the casual crowning touch on an already tremendous song. Throughout the album, on song after song, it’s impossible to shake the feeling that the band knows exactly how keyed-in they all are, and it’s almost all they can do to keep from laughing out loud for joy in the recording booth.

Two moments are illustrative of the fathomless beauty of this album. First: at the 1:48 mark of “Tulsi,” the whole band drops into a huge, chunky groove and the guitars play a devilishly playful minor key twinned arpeggio. They only do it twice, and then they clear out to make space for an assertive vocal chorus. Second: on the album-closing instrumental “Da Tariki Tariquat,” after the guitars spend a few minutes plucking out a clean, folk-like trance, the full band slowly joins in for a gathering squall of drone guitar overtones and Rocco’s gently roiling tom fills. But that’s it: there’s no cheap explosion, no crescendo that manufactures unearned gratification. The sounds come together, speak to each other, and then retreat. It’s the sound of the ebb and flow of great waters – dark and cool when still, but always with a latent menace, the whispered possibility of churn and tempest. It’s a feast.

Go buy this album right now.

Posted by Dan Obstkrieg

Happily committed to the foolish pursuit of words about sounds. Not actually a dinosaur.

  1. Fuck yes is all i have to say

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