Hype is a curious thing. It can serve as the catalyst for an up-and-coming band to gain notoriety and exposure, or as a crushing blow to an established act that falls short of the stratospheric expectations attached to their work. It is a simultaneous blessing and bane, building and destroying the reputations of bands from all genres with merciless glee. Italy’s Messa breathe the rarified air of a band whose sophomore record not only meets the ridiculously high expectations placed on it, but exceeds them. Feast for Water is a revelation, combining doom, jazz, blues, and occult rock into a rich amalgam of sonic textures that is as fluid and well-written as you are likely to hear this year. We are incredibly excited to bring you an exclusive track from this behemoth of a record, “The Seer”, as well as an interview with the band.
Those who were hit in the head by the completely unexpected brick that was the band’s first record, Belfry, will notice some stark differences in the sounds conjured on “The Seer”. Opposed to the at times overwhelming ambient/drone textures of their debut, “The Seer” presents a lush counterpoint to the harshness present throughout Belfry. The spacious, cavernous thunder of Rocco’s deliberate drumming opens the track with ominous atmosphere, which is only heightened by the blues-infused guitar and bass work provided by Marco and Alberto in the track’s first half. Sara’s vocals are as delicious as they have every been, jumping from smoothly intoxicating and seductive to righteous and powerful as the song rumbles toward its fantastic finale. The music may be more expansive and epic than before, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less heavy. The track’s second half is stuffed with fantastic riffs that will give many a metal fan plenty to smile about, as the doom-laden sections of this track have the ability to crush and brutalize with all the force of a fist to the jaw. Few bands are operating at this level of symbiosis between smooth and heavy, and Messa nails that juxtaposition here. The music shifts in tone and tempo with ease and skill, highlighting the band’s progress as songwriters. It’s the complete package, folks. While Belfry is a fantastic record, “The Seer” points toward even greater heights.
Any fan of doom metal can safely get hyped for this release. Messa are no longer a young band waiting in the shadow of their predecessors, but step boldly into new sonic territory with all the fire and fury of a band with many more albums under its belt. Diving deeper into their music and the themes behind their upcoming record, the band have graciously answered a few of our questions regarding their forthcoming album. Listen to “The Seer” and read their thoughts below. The record is out April 6th and is available for pre-order on Bandcamp. Get on it.
For the uninitiated, give us a brief description of your history as a band. What drew you together as artists to make music as Messa?
M: At the very beginning, it was just me and Sara. We started developing the project and writing some stuff. We both were friends with Alberto and Rocco, and we asked them to join. We started rehearsing immediately all together, and our first record ‘Belfry’ was born.
Feast for Water is your second full-length record, and it’s fantastic. It also contains a fairly wide range of musical styles. What were the principal musical influences you drew inspiration from as you wrote this record?
M: I’m always inspired by the music scene that comes out from the north of Europe, particularly the Dutch one, for instance bands like The Devil’s Blood, GOLD, Dool, Urfaust.
Usually what I like is to combine those sophisticated sounds and songwriting with something more raw, rude and simple that comes from the other side of the ocean, like Windhand, Bellwitch, King Dude, Om or Sabbath Assembly, to name a few.
A: I’d personally add Jeff Beck and Stevie Wonder. Especially their work together. It was a marginal influence, but they have surely affected my playing.
R: Black metal keeps being my most important influence throughout all these years.
Speaking of songwriting, I’m curious as to the band’s process in this regard. Is it a collaborative effort?
M: Yes, of course. Our songs are the subtle result of our sensibilities mixed together. I love to divide the process into 3 different tasks, or three layers, so to say. We start off by writing a riff, a song structure and an overall vision of what we think the song should sound like. Most of the times, I’m the one who comes out with this thing. At this point, we have the ‘skeleton’ of the piece.
The second step is the arrangement, and we work all together to give a shape to the song and we test if it works or not. Alberto is an important figure in this process, because he works hard on the arrangements. He joins all the instruments together and takes care of the dialogue between every instrument. During that process, the song starts getting a real shape. Then come the lyrics and the vocal lines, which could be considered the main part of the newborn song. It’s always Sara’s job to mold her own parts. I think she gives soul to the song and that she breathes life into the music.
S: We always work together, bring our own contribution, and speak openly about what we appreciate or not. It’s often a crash of opinions. We let out what we hide within, basically.
How did the recording process for Feast for Water differ from that of your debut?
S: It took us more attention and effort. We spent many hours in the studio, and in the rehearsal room first. We wanted to be sure of what we were going to record, but still leaving some room for liberation, creation, changes and improvisation. More research for sound and soundscapes.
A: ‘Belfry’ was more like a jam session, with rougher arrangements. This new record was complex since the beginning. The recording technique is pretty much the same, it’s a ‘live’ record, from a studio point of view, I think. Guitar, bass and drums were all recorded at the same time.
M: As Alberto said, it was more complex this time. The songwriting is less about improvisation, and the structures of “Feast for Water” are more thoughtful than those of our previous record.
From my point of view, we switched to more atmospheric and dark vibes while retaining our doom-rock core.
How have you have developed as artists and musicians since the recording of Belfry, and what lessons did you learn from that process that you brought into the creation of Feast for Water?
A: I learnt that ambient and quiet parts somehow needed to be present in the songs, together with the dynamic changes between piano/forte.
R: Maybe we did grow as musicians, maybe not. We just approached composition in a different way, more experimental. That jazz vibe wouldn’t have been possible without Alberto playing the Fender Rhodes, for instance.
M: First of all, we learned how to deal with our skills and limits as human beings. We are still improving our approach to collaboration and respect towards each other. Music is the second level to me.
If in a band the energy (positive or negative) is channeled in a good way, everything is possible.
As a musician, I’m still upgrading the way I listen to the other players, which is the most important thing to me.
While Belfry incorporated elements of dense drone and occultic doom, Feast for Water has a much more open, jazz-influenced atmosphere. What facilitated this change in sonic direction?
A: The choice of including Rhodes piano undoubtedly made everything sound more ‘jazzy’, together with the choice of chord voicings. It’s one of those instruments that immediately links you to a certain music (like sax, for example). From my point of view, before being a choice it was a necessity, which allowed me to experiment and be more creative as a musician. One of the ways to make it stand as a ‘different’ doom record was to find some uneven solutions, although properly chosen.
Let’s talk about the album’s themes for a bit. Namely the theme of water. It shows up essentially everywhere, from the cover art and album title to lyrical themes and even in the music itself. What is the significance of this particular element to the album, and how can listeners interpret its title?
M: Before we made the record, I chose this element because I wanted to communicate a sort of ‘second step’ after the album “Belfry”. When we were thinking about the concept of the new album, I was certain about one thing: I wanted to create a real sequel to our first record.
In “Belfry” the main subject is the bell tower, and the way it gathers people together. The bell tower draws the faithful into the lake, so to say. Here we are now, with this second part of this ‘mass’, that starts with a dive into the lake. It is a journey that kicks off in the darkness of deep water, and as you swim to the seabed you reach the portals of an imaginary submerged cathedral. We chose that concept because it represents an idea of beginning, of fluid power, of pureness and simplicity. Water has always been important in rituals as a gateway to initiation. The term “jazz” comes from “jizz”, and in our Catholic tradition the first blessing you receive is baptism (again, water becomes a principal element).
The tone of this record represents this concept very clearly. We tried to achieve a more ‘submerged’ sound instead of getting the usual fuzzy, wide-open guitars in order to give the listener a feeling of apnea. For what concerns the graphic design, video, photos, everything redirects to water. We do believe that water has given us life, but it may also take it away from us.
Album opener “Naunet”, unless I’m mistaken, refers to the Egyptian goddess of water and chaos. How did Egyptian mythology (or mythology in general) impact your songwriting for this record?
S: I think influence is constant in life, as a human being I can be affected by poetry, art, personal experiences, visions.. I have been interested in ancient Egypt’s culture since a very young age. But all of the lyrics to “Feast for Water” have their own singular and peculiar root. Not all of them are directly linked to that fascinating mythology. I’ve been diving into W. B. Yeats’s poetry as well as into the work of Marjorie Cameron and Jack Parsons. Those writings have affected me deeply.
The name “Messa” itself has some deeply rooted religious and spiritual connotations. Why did you choose this name for the band, and what does it mean to you?
M: Sara was the one who came out with this name, and we loved it right away. It means and sounds a lot to us. We realized that we aimed for a name with feminine connotation. There is a somewhat ceremonial aspect in our shows, and it’s deeply connected to this name.
On both Belfry and Feast for Water, the cover art is striking. What is your thought process when deciding on the imagery that will adorn your records, and how important is this imagery as a companion to your music?
M: Thanks. Personally, I love working on the imaginary of our music. In the case of “Feast for Water”, I thought about a graphic solution that looks a bit like the classical 50’s to 70’s jazz cover albums. They attract me a lot, and I thought such designs would fit really well with our music. This graphic style requires an intense use of pure B/W photography, a discipline that everybody in the band love so well. This time, instead of taking a photo by ourselves, we asked the contribution of different artists and we selected the work of Loris Savino, which is a brilliant fine art photographer that developed a project called “Emergence” based on the watery element. Check him out, he’s really talented and he also has a fine art laboratory called Linkelab. (www.linkelab.com)
You have some big fans here in the US and across the globe. When can we expect to see you on tour?
S: We’ll be touring Europe in May, with our friends Discomfort. Another European tour will take place in late October. In the meantime we’ll play some gigs and festivals during the summer. We’d love to play in the US again, but we haven’t planned anything yet. I guess we’ll find out as time goes by.
M: Touring the US is always so fun and intense, we hope to make it again, maybe next year.
I am going to take this opportunity to say hello to our buddies from Witchcryer and Destroyer of Light, who have been so kind and welcoming last year.
Check them out because they kick some serious ass!
Finally, Heavy Blog’s traditional interview ender: How do you like your eggs?
A: I don’t like eggs.
M: No eggs, double hash browns please!