Here’s the thing about year-end lists: They’re inherently imperfect. As editors, writers and critics, we take in as much as we can, assess what’s in view and try to come up with rankings that make sense. But inevitably we miss titles that could have ended up in the running if we’d known about them sooner. For this writer, one of those is Feast for Water, the latest album by Italy’s Messa, which I checked out after seeing it cited in a year-end list on the always-on-point metal blog Last Rites.
The write-up mentioned the band’s “bluesy haze” and even namechecked Stevie Ray Vaughn, not your typical underground-metal reference points. After hearing the single “Leah,” it’s easy to see why inter-genre comparisons were necessary. The track starts off with a crunchy doom-metal plod, but soon opens up into a jazzily noir-ish verse, with spare percussion and subtle Fender Rhodes framing the breathy croon of a vocalist known only as Sara. When the distortion comes roaring back, this time with the singer belting mightily over the top (“Raise your chalice/For your guide sublime”), the effect is stunning — the crescendo all the more impactful thanks to the hush that came before. The track only grows more epic from there, combining the witchy mystique of Stevie Nicks–fronted Fleetwood Mac with Black Sabbath’s tortured churn.
The whole album is equally captivating, wringing maximum drama out of its savvy stylistic clash. Feast for Water — which the band calls “a concept album centered on the introspective, symbolic and ritual features of the liquid element” — is undoubtedly a metal record, even incorporating menacing growls and hectic blast beats (not to mention a surprise saxophone cameo) on the track “Tulsi,” but it isn’t just a metal record. Any rock fan with an ear for immersive textures and epic dynamics could find something to enjoy here.
Expect to hear more from Messa in 2019, as the band — also including bassist-guitarist Marco Messa, lead-guitarist Alberto and drummer Mistyr — will appear at high-profile overseas fests like the Netherlands’ Roadburn and London’s Desertfest. We may have been late to the party, but we’ll be sure not to miss out on whatever comes next.