Tuesday 12 March 2024

Messiah - Christus Hybercubus (2024)

Country: Switzerland
Style: Progressive Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 1 Mar 2024
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Wikipedia | YouTube

I'm pretty sure I've heard Messiah before, but I couldn't name what or when, so it doesn't matter. They're a Swiss band who started out playing death/thrash metal and have clearly evolved over a forty year period to the point where it's tough to describe what this, their seventh album actually sounds like. There's certainly death metal and thrash metal here, with certain songs leaping out to identify that way, but there's a lot more, enough that I'm going to back out of any one genre to label it simply progressive metal.

The death metal aspect is there from the beginning on the opening couple of songs, Sikhote Alin and Christus Hypercubus, but mostly in the harsh vocals of Marcus Seebach, debuting here as the replacement for long term vocalist Andy Kaina, who died in 2022. The music is mid-pace, so heavy metal more than thrash or death, but with driving elements that often hint that they're only one shift away from those more extreme genres. There are all sorts of odd moments too, like a quirky intro and a midpoint drop into an interesting vocal and drum section, that move it further into a prog metal mindset.

Once Upon a Time - Nothing - changes that, because it plays fast and makes the thrash/death tag suddenly feel entirely appropriate. Centipede Bite is faster still, feeling unashamedly thrash and doing everything that thrash is supposed to do. So yeah, Messiah definitely still play in those old genres even if they don't do it all the time, rather like Voivod, another highly idiosyncratic band who ignore genre boundaries and create precisely what they want to create, however critics end up defining it. The music matters, the definitions not so much.

However, in between Once Upon a Time - Nothing - and Centipede Bite is a song as different from that pair as could be comfortably imagined and yet remain metal. It's Speed Sucker Romance, an ironic name given that it ditches the speed entirely. It's a slow song, the riffs doomy and the lead guitarwork conjured up through feedback squeals. It reminded me a lot of the Lee Dorrian track on Dave Grohl's Probot album, but this clearly benefits from more modern production values. It's not unwilling to throw out an homage too, as I presume the churn sound towards the end is a nod towards Black Sabbath's Iron Man.

Soul Observatory and Acid Fish are fast but not frantically so, somewhere in between the openers and the faster tracks, meaning a fourth recurring tempo on one album. The pair of closing tracks, The Venus Baroness I and II, are obviously prog metal, with theatrical moments that make us feel like there's some sort of concept going on here, if only for a subset of the album that happens to be at the end without really ending the album. There's a quirky interlude after the blitzkrieg of Centipede Bite too that's entirely theatrical, Please Do Not Disturb - (While I'm Dying), with an Operation: Mindcrime sort of feel, but heavier.

And so I wasn't sure what to think of this versatility on a first listen. Of course, I was drawn toward the faster tracks, Centipede Bite especially, but I got a real kick out of Speed Sucker Romance and Acid Fish too, so this isn't a repeat of yesterday's Judas Priest album, where the success of one approach had an effect on my enjoyment of another, done equally well. I just struggled to figure out what Messiah see as their mission statement. Speed Sucker Romance, Centipede Bite and Please Do Not Disturb - (While I'm Dying) are next to each other on the album but sound like three different styles, if not three different bands.

Maybe what puzzles me most is that they tend to shift tempos from one track to another far more than they do during them and that feels surprising. Maybe it shouldn't. Maybe the draw here is in what links all those different tracks rather than what separates them and I suddenly realise that I may be thinking far too much again. There is a consistent tone that rolls across all these tracks, so perhaps I just need to listen to a broader swathe of Messiah to find the defining theme. I have an abiding feeling that, like someone like Voivod, as overlooked as they often seem to be, they may well be a lot of people's favourite band.

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