Some music simply has a soul that is exciting to experience. Maybe it doesn’t turn out to be your favorite album, or even one that you listen to often, but it might still have the charm and humanity to captivate you when you do listen to it. I feel that way about the new Messa album called Close. It releases officially on March 11th.
Messa comes to us from Italy, but they honestly don’t sound like most Italian bands. The band seems to like a little privacy, as the lineup is listed as Sara on vocals and percussion; Marco on bass, acoustic guitar, vocals, synth, and dulcimer; Alberto on guitars, oud, mandolin, vocals, Moog bass, Rhodes piano, synth, and percussion; and Rocco on drums, percussion, and screams. Each member is pretty damn busy, as you can see. Guest musicians include Giorgio Trombino on duduk and saxophone, and Matteo Bordin on guitar.
This band is like a melting pot of various styles, though certain ones come out in each album. The band themselves cite Prog, black metal, punk, dark ambient, jazz, blues, and doom metal as the ingredients going into the mix, but what comes out the other side doesn’t sound much like any of those things. This album has a heavy rock sound to it with a zealous dash of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean sounds, some doomy elements, and ferocious energy. In fact, I would say the record sounds like a mix of stoner rock bands influenced by Black Sabbath, such as Elder or Crown Lands, with the ambient, world, and dark tendencies of groups like Dead Can Dance.
This mixture suits them well. Above all of those genre labels, though, the band fixates on genuinely interesting and beautiful compositions. You will hear strange song structures and dark lyrical concepts. You will notice very specific celebrations of various cultures, such as Flamenco music from Spain or the Nakh dance from the Algerian/Tunisian border. The band succeeds greatly in balancing traditional cultural sounds with heaviness and majesty.
And I would point out, too, that Sara’s vocals are a huge highlight of this album. I was amazed time and again at her range, potency, and crystal clear tone. There are moments strewn throughout this record that prove to me that she has certainly provided one of the best vocal performances of the year already. Everything that follows in 2022 will be measured against her offering here.
Close is a grand album, though I would say that it waits a few tracks to show its hand fully. The first two tracks are both good in their own way, heavy on guitars and bass in “Suspended” and “Dark Horse”. I deeply appreciate the jazzy and cultural vibes in “Orphalese”, especially the purity of Sara’s voice therein, though it is mostly instrumental. The track, I assume, is inspired by the fictional city of Orphalese in the book of poetry called The Prophet, which was written by Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran and published in 1923. I actually have a copy.
The album really starts to pick up here. “Rubedo”, a term meaning “redness” and referring to the final stage of alchemy, is one of my favorite songs. I find its balance of loud-quiet to be perfect, along with some absolutely stunning vocals. The last half is especially good with its harmonies and almost classic rock vibe. After a short interlude called “Hollow”, the single “Pilgrim” reveals itself, and what a track it is! The guitars here are nice and heavy, not to mention doomy, and Sara sings over the fray with clarity and vitality.
The rest of the album is just as good. I really like the transition from simplicity to heavy chaos on “0=2”, the strange ambience and dynamism in “If You Want Her to Be Taken”, and even the unleashed pandemonium of the “Leffotrak” interlude. The final song, “Serving Him”, could easily be the best, though. Between its pleasant pace and spectacular chorus, it feels perfectly composed and quite meaningful. I like how the album ends with Sara’s gentle vocal musings.
Close is a great album. Messa has achieved a wonderful balance of sounds, emotions, and cultures, and have done so with great respect, artistry, and fervor. I really enjoy this record. It might not be the first thing I reach for all the time, but it is certainly a memorable and layered experience that will yield great returns with multiple listens.
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