Messenger: Illusory Blues

Psych/folk reveries from UK metal troupe

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Messenger are a new London quintet with wide musical histories incorporating black metal, ambient and hardcore punk plus alumni from mid-00s tech-death scene staples Dam and Raise The Dead. Although their press release circulates a glowing testimony from Ulver’s Kristoffer ‘Garm’ Rigg, and their sedate, pastoral vibes seem keen to tap into the mellow hippy prog-pop of 70s rustics like Barclay James Harvest and Renaissance, it’s hard not to wonder how influential Opeth’s 2011 Heritage album has been on the metal underground.

Latter-day Anathema are another vaguely valid reference point, but Messenger are older-fashioned and less impassioned; more cerebral and reserved than the starry-eyed Scousers. You might detect bursts of Witchcraft here and there, like at the end of opener The Return – an especially heavenly experience for fans of winsome flute solos.

Messenger’s enthusiasm for sparing and tasteful use of the odd orchestral instrument is confirmed by Piscean Ride, where delicate male harmonies wash over soft acoustic plucking, relaxed percussion and tumbling vibraphone, but the song is elevated by a melancholy violin solo worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Dear Departure and The Perpetual Glow Of A Setting Sun are more contemporary, with shades of quiet Muse, Radiohead and Ulver amid a flurry of synth and organ sounds (including either a Mellotron or a digital Mellotron software package, it’s hard to tell these days).

Nine-minute centrepiece Midnight begins strumming a quirky acoustic riff among its multi-string picking, vocals getting a shade bluesier than the album’s predominant melodic treble, before a great nervy breakdown (reminiscent of Trans Am’s late 90s experiments in robotic post-rock) ushers in a joyous jam salad of fuzzy slide bass, crunchy QOTSA guitar, relaxed jazz signatures and folky violin. Meditative closer Let The Light In comes closest to echoing the Beatles and Pink Floyd references in the band’s publicity, and the album ends in a flurry of tootling recorders.

These are rare notes of discord on an otherwise tranquil, harmonious, even somnolent album, but it avoids the pitfalls of other arty-farty ex-metal wimp-out projects by maintaining the attention of the listener with radiant flourishes.

Chris Chantler

Chris has been writing about heavy metal since 2000, specialising in true/cult/epic/power/trad/NWOBHM and doom metal at now-defunct extreme music magazine Terrorizer. Since joining the Metal Hammer famileh in 2010 he developed a parallel career in kids' TV, winning a Writer's Guild of Great Britain Award for BBC1 series Little Howard's Big Question as well as writing episodes of Danger Mouse, Horrible Histories, Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed and The Furchester Hotel. His hobbies include drumming (slowly), exploring ancient woodland and watching ancient sitcoms.