The latest arrival in the "out of the woodwork" file are Messiah, a Swiss thrash/death metal outfit who were formed as long ago as 1984 but who haven't put out a studio album since 1994. This is their sixth such and I'm happy that they're back.
They take an odd approach to the genre, which is to combine a roughness in tone and vocal style with real elegance in the songwriting and the guitarwork. Sacrosanctus primitivus kicks off the album as a dark but dense layered soundscape worthy of a film soundtrack. Then it's the title track, reminding to no small degree of old school Celtic Frost: cavernous riffs, demonic but often intelligible vocals and a pace that shifts all over the place. Fracmont is almost ten minutes long and it keeps itself busy for the whole time: mid-pace death, fast paced thrash and even a thoughtful multi-layered breakdown during the midsection that suggests that the gap between Venom's At War with Satan and Lord of the Rings is a lot smaller than we might have previously guessed.
The good news is that this epic title track is reason enough to buy this album. You don't need to hear any more from me. The bad news is that it's easily the best track on offer, though the quality doesn't dip particularly far as we move on. What's more, the styles in play develop nicely, making this quite a varied album.
For instance, Morte al dente features almost a groove metal rhythm for a while and features a pair of harsh voices in duet that I dig quite a lot, even though this is definitely one of those extreme albums where I prefer the music to the singing. There are plenty of points where Andy Kaina's voice plays well with the music behind him, grounding all this in demonic realms. If I ever get to drive the Highway to Hell, I'd expect Messiah, fronted by Kaina, to be the one and only station that the radio will tune into, especially playing faster, more emphatic songs like Singularity.
However, whenever proceedings drift into progressive metal and Brögi's guitar explores a much wider swathe of textures, Kaina doesn't prove as versatile. I think it's partly because his guttural voice is so warm and the bass of Patrick Hersche, aka Frugi, plays so well with it. This means that, whichever song is playing, we're paddling along the lake of fire with the band at the other end of the boat. Maybe it's really Brögi that's the odd man out, because sometimes he jams along with them but, at other times, he takes us to all sorts of other places too. He's just not as confined.
And yeah, I'm getting deeper than I need to get. I like the tone and I like the music. I especially like a lot of the riffs, which are inspired by Iron Maiden as much as Venom or Celtic Frost, with a handful of other, more surprising names occasionally showing up too; for instance, Urbi et orbi feels oddly like a combination of Slayer and Suicidal Tendencies! And I really like when choral and other elements enter the fray to mix things up completely.
Fracmont may be the epitome of that, but I dig the album's closer, with its Ave Maria bookends, a lot too. It's Throne of Diabolic Heretics and it does a heck of a lot in six minutes. Sometimes it's right up there with anything else here in speed and vibrancy but, halfway through, it takes a wild left turn and becomes a doom/death song. It took me a while to get used to that, but it's this one that I go back to. It's surely my favourite song here that isn't named for the album and the second half of it is where I'd suggest Kaina's voice fits the most exactly.
Welcome back, folks. Twenty-six years has been too long.