Feast for Water: an adventurous droning doom metal album featuring ambient and free jazz

Messa, Feast for Water, Italy, Aural Music Records, CD digipak / LP vinyl Aura028 (2018)

I came across Italian doom metal band Messa on the compilation album “The Planet of Doom – First Contact” where their song “Serpent Libido” was featured. That Messa’s contribution was selected for this compilation which acts much like a movie trailer for the upcoming animated science fiction film – several other bands have contributed tracks to the film but only four bands were chosen for the compilation – might say a fair amount about Messa’s potential as a doom metal band whose style also incorporates ambient and free jazz.

Starting with an instrumental introductory track that establishes a theme of water and total immersion within it (or any other fluid equivalent), the album proper launches with “Snakeskin Drape”, an indie pop-friendly number of strong catchy riffs and Zeppelin-sounding lead guitar solos, dark atmosphere and Sara B’s soaring siren vocals that climaxes in a noisy little racket. It’s with “Leah” that Messa establishes its true doomy droning nature, mixing light and dark, grinding doom metal and wistful, melancholy atmospheric cabaret scenarios with just Sara B’s breathy musings for company, in a song of many moods and surprise twists. Sara’s singing and range are very impressive here though the temptation to shout must have been very strong. An interesting touch on this song, as on some other songs on the album, is the band’s willingness to add experimental noise ambient and drone (or even a solo sax melody) quite late as climax or coda. “The Seer” likewise stretches from lazy summer-heat crooning bluesy verses to full-on doom metal / heavy blues rock thunder in its instrumental sections that almost drowns out the vocals which are forced to go high and shrill.

“She Knows” is a beautifully dark and mysterious ambient mood piece, pensive and questioning at first, that becomes a slightly menacing dark jazz blues number with a predatory bass line before erupting halfway through into a brief bludgeoning explosion of gritty guitar lava. The song’s latter half mixes the moody ambience and the metal in ways that are a bit awkward and which (I feel) don’t bring out the full shadowy nuances of the song that would make it richer in sound and atmosphere; the dank production that characterises the whole album puts the track at a disadvantage. Later tracks follow the general trend of combining introspective mood music, singing that sometimes reaches virtuoso heights, grinding doom sludge, melodic hard rock lead guitar solos and experimentation with other music styles.

That the band is adventurous enough to develop its own fusion style of doom metal, free form jazz, some black metal and experimental elements (including noise and, on the outro track, even some Middle Eastern influence) is undeniable. At the same time, that dark production which works well on most songs does end up rather one-dimensional and ruins the potential of tracks like “She Knows” and “Da Tariki Tariquat” to be more complex and rich in musical texture and mood. While Sara B scores well in the higher end of her range as a singer, she would also be well advised to develop her lower register and add a more crooning style to increase her expressive ability.

I can’t see this as Messa’s breakthrough album, good though the songwriting can be on a number of songs – if the band continues in developing its style and confidence, then the third album will be the one that clinches wider fame for the musicians – but I definitely can visualise “Feast for Water” as having cult status among the band’s fans in the future.