Album: Belfry (2016)
Where to buy: Bandcamp
Beneath the unsettling, ambient drones and disturbing feedback effects of Belfry’s opening track are deep and gutteral breaths. They sound exactly like what you imagined the monsters under your bed sounded like when you were a child. A high-pitched squeal cuts over the rumble of basal incomprehensibility and the first real song, “Babalon,” rings out in a slow marriage of doom and classic rock riffs. Messa uses Belfry’s hour-long running time to explore modern notions of ambient doom and metal while evoking the sounds of the late 70s, complete with the occasional jazz interlude. There’s a lot of blues, a lot of heaviness, and a lot of weird noise going on here. And over the course of the album, a certain intentionality reveals itself. I’m not sure if Messa achieved all of their goals on Belfry, but the effort is apparent and the music’s pretty good, too.
But it’s not all music, or at least, not all musical. Interspersed between the actual songs are several ambient noise tracks that stretch out in strange ways. There are really only six songs on Belfry, with the other four tracks given over to ambient doom. I admit that this particular subgenre holds less appeal to me than the more musical doom of, say, Khemmis or Eight Bells. The effect of these tracks on the album is multifaceted. They help to create a pattern of slow, drawn-out punctuation, a definite motif across the entire release. The songs have overtures, codas, reprises, and stretch and squeeze time as needed, creating a constantly shifting musical landscape. This shifting is unlike what we hear in prog or thrash; instead, we get pure instability, like you’re looking at the world through eyeglasses with ever-changing prescriptions. The ambient tracks add the requisite unpredictable tectonics to this terrain.
The songs, on the other hand, rely on riff-focused structures to call forth classic rock and metal. Sabbath is the most prominent influence on Belfry. The main riff of “Blood” is so much like the heaviest lines of Tommy Iommi and Geezer Butler that it could be a lost B-side. Its slow, driving distortion (the track is over ten minutes long) and repetitive force is a headbanger’s manna – and then “Blood” turns into a jazzy clarinet jam, before returning to its massive roots, which grow and grow until the sudden, jolting stop, which will remind you of the similar brick wall that finally puts a stop to “I Want You” by The Beatles. Likewise, “Babalon,” “Hour of the Wolf,” and “Outermost” are all lengthy songs broken up into several movements that play with tempo and tone.
Sara’s vocals are the instrumental highlight. Her voice is spooky and spectral, giving just enough humanity to the long wails to complement the similarly creepy melodies. She sounds like Bonnie Raitt gone to the traveling carnival, aspirating her sibilants and fricatives with a subtle resignation that gives Belfry its dominating tones: despondent, harrowed, mournful, capitulating. Her vocal work is so effective that you end up missing it during the ambient tracks. Mark Sade’s and Alberto’s guitar and basswork is pretty straight ahead, neither towering nor meek, and Mistyr’s drums are comparably effective. They play like a band that’s spent a lot of time listening to Sabbath, Maiden, and Charlie Parker, which is no bad thing. Even more importantly, they support Sara’s voice aptly.
Finally, I’ll mention that Messa is about to tour the USA! Most Gulf Coast states (plus South Carolina) will get a show or two. I recommend catching them if you can. Belfry is the result of a lot of focused work, and the songs are well worth hearing. See their tour info on their facebook page.