Dark Horse – Exclusive interview with Messa

Messa (Left to right): Marco Zanin (bass, acoustic guitar, synths), Sara Bianchin (lead vocals and percussion), Rocco Toaldo (drums and vocals), Alberto Piccolo (lead guitar, mandolin, synths, oud, piano, vocals).

Experimental doom metal has its trailblazers in the post-metal scene, but the avant-garde interpretation from Italian quartet, Messa, raised many eyebrows earlier this year. Along with American trio, Eight Bells, Messa bring something new and unsettling to the table. Their music resonates like a Mauritanian sandstorm yet conjures images of the English witch trials and the splendour of the Saracen age. One moment the band soothe with the hidden anguish of Portishead but can then surprise you with Dead Can Dance or Black Sabbath. You can see why Finnish label, Svart Records, are the proud patrons of Messa’s enchanting art.

Hailing from Padua in the northern Italian region of Veneto, Messa approach their music as they would a recital at the city’s thirteenth-century university. They discard nothing of global significance that could enhance their sound and know that the future must always understand the rich tapestry of the past to move forward. Singer, Sara Bianchin, is the captivating voice of this mellifluous metal experience and contributes to the song-writing with multi-instrumentalists, Alberto Piccolo and Marco Zanin, as well as drummer and screamer, Rocco Toaldo. This is Messa’s moment in the spotlight with twenty-four gigs booked for their summer European tour and a triumphant set at the prestigious Roadburn festival behind them. Few bands can write an hour’s worth of music on an album release and keep you enthralled for every second of the experience, but these Italians are the exception to the rule.

SBR spoke to the quartet to learn more about the making of their latest album.

Above: The band at their show in Gdansk, Poland, on 26 April 2022.

Let’s start with your excellent new album, Close. Why did you choose this one word as the title of your third record?

Sara Bianchin (Lead vocals and percussion): ‘Close’ is a multi-faceted word I suggested at a very early stage of creation of the record. Sometimes, you just feel something and click with it. It has many meanings, and each member of Messa looks at it with a different perspective.

We said in our review that your current album ‘is a progressive metal record where Al-Andalus meets Byzantium and modern England.’ How would you describe it for somebody unfamiliar with your music?

Alberto Piccolo (Lead guitar): Our idea with Close was to take the listener (and ourselves as well) into a journey. We did that by using some Mediterranean elements as well as some middle eastern vibes. It’s really an album that should be listened to from the beginning to the end. I guess you could say it’s a doom metal/rock journey through the Mediterranean, but we don’t like to put etiquettes on our music.

The vocals have a playful but hypnotic effect on the listener’s musical experience when mixed with doom metal dynamics and the sparkle of the Orient. In your opinion, which song on Close encapsulates Messa at their best?

Sara Bianchin: I think it’s impossible to cherry-pick one song in particular because all the songs are the output of our personalities mixed. Maybe two songs that represent us – for someone who does not know our project – could be either ‘Rubedo’ or ‘Pilgrim’.

Alberto Piccolo: As we said before, it’s an album that’s intended to be listened to as a whole, so it’s difficult for us to pick one song instead of another. ‘Rubedo’ and ‘Pilgrim’ are good examples of the vibe of the album, and ‘Rubedo’ in particular has some of the characteristics of our previous works too. Personally, my favourite songs of the album are ‘Dark Horse’ and ‘Orphalese’, but I must say I really enjoy playing ‘Rubedo’ live, so yeah, no clear winner.

Messa receive a lot of critical acclaim among the elite rock and metal publications in Europe, but how popular are you in your homeland of Italy?

Sara Bianchin: We get good feedback in Italy as well. All the Italian shows we did so far after Close came out were very nice. The contrast between Italy and other European countries is how differently receptive the crowd is. Usually, in Italy concerts are a ‘social’ situation, therefore people interact and speak a lot with each other during the show. In other EU countries, the gig’s atmosphere is totally different, more introspective. Crowds listen to the concert in total silence.

Above: The band are touring Europe from July until September, including a slot at this year’s Hellfest.

Question for Sara: What is your most cherished memory from your time recording the vocals for Close at La Distilleria studio in Bassano del Grappa, Veneto?

Sara Bianchin: Probably the feeling of liberation that came with letting go. Singing gives a primal sense of boundlessness that is inexplicable.

What was the most difficult song to write on your latest album and why?

Alberto Piccolo: The most difficult song to write turned out to be ‘Serving Him’. We did several versions of it and several different vocal lines when the structure was more or less solid. We weren’t satisfied with the result; in some ways, I’m not yet satisfied with how the song turned out on the record. When there’s a lot of struggle with making a song work, maybe that’s a sign you should leave it behind and work on something new. I mean, rework is essential and it’s something we do a lot, but we do it only as long as the ideas are fresh and interesting.

How did the song ‘Leffotrak’ come into existence? This one is like an art-rock interpretation of grindcore!

Sara Bianchin: ‘Leffotrak’ has a funny story. It’s a ‘tour’ song that was not intended to be in the album at first. The riff came out while having fun backstage in Austria, while we were babbling in altered states… This tune was often played when killing time in the rehearsal room, while we were arranging Close. We decided not to take ourselves too seriously, and we recorded it!

Messa played the prestigious Roadburn Festival last month. Which three bands were your favourite performers at Roadburn and why?

Marco Zanin (Guitar and bass): We were not there for the whole festival, just a couple of days, so we have not seen every concert we’d wish to. But we enjoyed Thou’s set at the Ladybird Skatepark on Thursday, Motorik and The Bug.

Tell us what the facilities are like backstage at Roadburn. Do you mingle with other artists?

Sara Bianchin: At most festivals there’s a backstage room you share with other bands. Usually, before the shows people are more on their own, concentrating before playing their set. When the performance is done you kinda let it loose! The atmosphere is more relaxed, and you get to know each other chatting and having a few drinks together. We made many friends on the way during these years. It’s one of the cool things about doing music.

Above: Portrait of Sara Bianchin by French photographer, William Lacalmontie, after the Roadburn show.

What analogies for modern life, if any, can we read into the lyrics of Close?

Sara Bianchin: I am kinda private about my lyrics. I always sing about something that had an impact on me or shook me deeply. There is no ‘main’ topic inside Close regarding lyrics, but there’s a whole spectrum of emotions inside of them. I like when people find their own interpretation and meaning, though. There are many layers.

Few artists receive universal praise. Describe the feeling when you read your first negative review of Messa’s music.

Sara Bianchin: To be honest, I don’t do music for having ‘validation’ from other people. I do it because I need the urgency of expressing myself. This being said, it’s great to get positive feedback, but it’s part of the game to get a negative one too. It happens. Nobody has to have the same perception and idea of an artistic work. Having negative feedback can be challenging but can also make you grow.

Final question: Why do you dedicate so much of your life to writing music?

Sara Bianchin: It’s a powerful way of expression. I put 110 percent of myself into it. Personally, I feel the need to push out what lies within. I’d never give up the sensation of boundlessness and freedom that music gives.

*** Messa released Close via Svart Records on 11 March 2022. You can read the original SBR review here.