Messa – Close Review

If I were forced to pick a single word to describe Messa’s third album, Close – just one word – it would be patient. Don’t mistake me: Messa’s doom is not slow or directionless or obsessed with tone over songs or any of the other things for which “patient” might be a backhanded euphemism. I simply mean that Messa has mastered the ability to give each song, each riff, each phrase just the time it needs.

If you happen to be the type who salivates about dissecting genres (hi hello of course you are), to call Messa’s sound doom is both accurate and incomplete. They do spend plenty of time carving out riffs thick as stone slabs, but their doom is cut through with a rich, wide-ranging blend of other sounds, from progressive rock to jazz to post-rock to desert psychedelia. This means you are equally likely to hear echoes of The Devil’s Blood/Molasses or Witchcraft as you are Sólstafir or Fields of the Nephilim, and just as likely to hear a Grant Green-like solo on “Suspended” as you are a hypnotic, psychedelic desert trance (drawing from both North African and Middle Eastern musical traditions) on “Orphalese” and “Pilgrim.” That last style offers some of the album’s richest surprises, with the use of instruments such as the oud and the duduk providing textures not often heard in this type of music. (In this they sometimes call to mind the wonderful Australian band Hashshashin.)

Given this stylistic diversity, the band’s pristine sense of pacing – their patience – is all the more important. Theirs is the patience of a band that knows the full arc of what they are doing, and therefore has no need to rush through anything – and in fact, by bringing the listener along on the carefully plotted unfolding of their vision, Messa helps us to hear all the exquisite detail. This careful attention comes out in lead guitarist Alberto’s string work, which uses a wonderful range of tones and effects across the album – sometimes twanging with reverb, sometimes dense and driving with a post-punk energy, sometimes overdriven and double-tracked, and sometimes pulled back into clean, jazzy phrases.

Release date: March 11, 2022. Label: Svart Records.
It also comes out in the fantastic, charismatic vocals of Messa’s frontwoman Sara, whose voice is capable of both theater-shaking power and lilting delicacy. Across the album she uses the full range of her instrument, going from airy highs and venom-tinged lows to straight-ahead belting. Even more engaging is the way that she constantly makes slight adjustments in her phrasing, so that even from one chorus to the next, you can hear the different choices – the different interpretations of a core feeling – play out in real time. Occasionally these details work in tandem, as at the 4:45 mark of “Rubedo” where the vocals and guitars synchronize, however briefly, to nail a thrilling crescendo and carry the song into a propulsive instrumental coda and guitar solo.

Each player is equally adept at sitting in the pocket and at stepping out with intricate flourishes. Messa’s bassist Marco provides the warm, driving heart of most of these songs, but he often peels off into clear-toned lead lines, and sometimes drops deep to lead the song down into a low, rumbling anchor-point. “Dark Horse” kicks off at a gallop that feels a bit similar to Sólstafir, and then pulls a great move with a false stop near the end, dropping out completely only to come back in with the song’s main riff at a hugely pulled-back, swinging half-tempo.

Rocco’s drums, with their beautifully recorded natural tones, often move in lockstep with the bass, but when they do stretch out with fills and extraneous percussion, it is always done to frame and complement the movement of the whole piece. Perhaps the best example is on “Pilgrim,” where, after the quiet midsection returns back to the song’s languorous, drawling riff, he plays an anticipatory snare fill in perfect syncopation against the downbeats of the rest of the instrumentation. It’s not at all flashy, but it’s the kind of immaculate songwriting detail that a lesser band would either oversell or overlook.

Another such detail is the use of mandolin as background texture, which is used to great effect on “If You Want Her to Be Taken” and “0 = 2,” the latter of which also features a fantastic section of dueling saxophone and guitar. Each is panned to one side while exploring the nervy outer reaches of their range, which makes the return to the gigantic, loping riff around the 9-minute mark all the more satisfying. “If You Want Her To Be Taken” starts as a haunting, blues-tinged ballad (with a hint of Royal Thunder); it has some of the album’s most searching guitar solos, but also some of the weirdest, almost atonal squiggles, and then closes with a whirlwind blastbeat section that feels like a small aside, except that it leads immediately into “Leffotrak,” a full-on grindcore tune that blazes furiously for less than a minute and then quits. It’s a head-spinning digression, but Messa makes it work.

Sometimes music with this level of detail and sweeping sense of motion feels like a geometrically precise structure, where each lattice, each beam, each cornice was laid step by step, and which might collapse if the assembly were altered. On Close, though, Messa’s use of detail feels so naturalistic and radiant that if the band were to record these exact songs again tomorrow, they might be radically different. Messa is not building that sort of pristine architecture, then; instead, they seem to be documenting a precognitive type of communication – a musical anthropology of imagined community.

Simply put, this is an astonishingly good album. If you happen to be the sort of egregiously handsome knucklehead who might like to think about things elementally (hi hello of course i am), it feels like Messa’s debut album Belfry (with its spacious, almost detached aura) was their air album, second album Feast for Water (with its aquatically plangent depths) was their water album, and Close (with its sense of walking through different terrains, sifting the soil, always poised for the sound of what the land can sing) is their earth album. Whether you find loam, peat, grass, clay, stone, pine, sand, snow, or silt at your feet, these are songs to take with you into the land.

Posted by Dan Obstkrieg

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

  1. Fuck yeah Royal Thunder


  2. Stellar album, amazing band


  3. “it feels like Messa’s debut album Belfry (with its spacious, almost detached aura) was their air album, second album Feast for Water (with its aquatically plangent depths) was their water album, and Close (with its sense of walking through different terrains, sifting the soil, always poised for the sound of what the land can sing) is their earth album” Brilliantly said.


  4. incredible Band, outstanding Album


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