One of the more interesting lessons of the on-going popularity of “Game of Thrones” is that the kicks to be had from the aesthetics of dark fantasy aren’t just for kids. Mellisandre’s shadow baby, the red wedding, the secrets young Arya Stark has still to learn about the Many-Faced God — these stoke a modern fascination with the ancient uncanny, the can’t-look-away experience of overwhelming dread, the unexpected libidinal charge delivered by the the occult. Well, maybe Sigmund Freud expected that last one; for that matter, Ann Wilson from Heart was probably trying to get at this when she pleaded with her mother to “try, try, try to understand/He’s a magic man.”
If this piques your interests, then give yourself over to the Italian “scarlet doom” metal band Messa. On “Babalon,” the first single from their debut album Belfry, the band lays down a slow, grinding bluesy figure in the Phrygian mode — the sine qua non of doom metal — with skill and flavor. But Messa’s black magic arises in the quiet passages, where singer Sara (no last name given) offers the illumination of a sole, flickering candle in a cavernous interiority of ageless mystery.
Elsewhere on Belfry, Messa turn up the power to levels demanded of today’s extreme metal. Passages of feedback, alternately creaking and bracing, punctuate the album, and on long, repetitive tracks the band shows an aptitude for casting spells. But it’s Sara who provides their signature element. On tracks like the fiery “Blood” (excerpted in the video below), her clear, assured soprano pins the listener against the wall with righteous fury. Sure, Messa throws bones to the doom metal masses, but with Sara they tap a venerable, mystical vein of female power.
A sociology professor living in upstate New York, Leonard Nevarez is patiently waiting until his kids are old enough for a family roadtrip to Maryland Deathfest. He blogs about the intersection of urban studies and popular music at musicalurbanism.org.