For all their youthful ambition, when London’s Messenger formed back in 2012, even the achievements the band have made in the ensuing three short years to where they stand now, on the verge of releasing their second full-length album for new label InsideOut, seem nothing short of remarkable. Not only is there the band’s acclaimed 2014 debut album Illusory Blues under the quintet’s collective belts, but a string of well received live performances, appearances at some of the rock world’s best known music festivals alongside some of the rock world’s best known names. They’ve even won awards.
Today, as the band ready Threnodies, that second album, it seems such a far cry from April 2, 2014 when they performed their album launch party at Birthdays in Dalston. Along the way there’s been appearances winning over new fans at UK festivals Ramblin' Man Fair, Desertfest and Sonisphere, Spain’s Be Prog! My Friend festival, Holland’s Roadburn and the international floating progressive music event Cruise To The Edge. Messenger won the Limelight Award for new artists at the 2014 Progressive Music Awards and were nominated for the Classic Rock magazine Roll Of Honour. These are the kind of achievements many bands can only dream about.
And yet one only has to listen to the seven new tracks that make up Threnodies to hear that Messenger are intent on taking their sound to wholly new sonic areas. Whereas Illusory Blues was made up of songs written by vocalist/guitarist Khaled Lowe, guitarist/vocalist Barnaby Maddick and drummer/producer Jaime Gomez Arellano and Threnodies sees fellow band members Dan Knight (guitars/keyboards) and James Leach (bass) also join in the band’s songwriting with quite startling effect.
Whilst Illusory Blues swung around warm pysch melodies, gently pulsing 70s progressive rock and the hint of something slightly more menacing and epic, so Threnodies delivers on all these and more. Right from the off, with Calyx’s twisting rhythmic structure, the new sound of Messenger is a clarion call to the masses to sit up and take note. Pulsating prog driven forth by Gomez-Arellano’s intensely structured drum patterns, the duelling guitars and vocals of Lowe and Maddick adding strong textures and Leach’s bass locking it all into a compelling groove, it’s a far more vibrant and exciting Messenger sound.
Where Calyx leads, Oracles Of War doesn’t just follow, but takes Messenger ever further into newer, bolder territory. Echoes of Pink Floyd’s grandeur have often been found in Messenger’s music, and here, and to a lesser extent Pareidolia later in the album, the Floydian sense of the epic is matched with a full throttle roar that echoes the band member’s previous involvement in more extreme music. An euphoric rush of Sabbath-meets-Floyd ingenuity, with its battling guitar riffs and impassioned vocals it is already the most epic track that Messenger have yet created, a colossus of sound the like of which can transcend a live show from simply brilliant to life-changing.
More recognisable Messenger traits are on offer on Balearic Blue, which as its title implies a warm and languid ride down a laid back psychedelic trail. Celestial Spheres highlights the impressive vocal harmonies between Lowe and Maddick, whilst the gentle swing of Nocturne showcases the exquisite guitar work on offer within the band. Crown Of Ashes draws Threnodies to a dreamlike close, leaving the listener under no illusions as to what it has witnessed over the previous 50 minutes or so.
Recorded during an intense three month period at North London’s Orgone Studios, and with Gomez-Arellano handling production duties, Threnodies could not help but be coloured by world events that occurred during its completion, not least the tragic shootings in Paris of November 2015. And indeed the album title refers to hymns or prayers to the dead. It all adds a gritty realism to proceedings which merely enhances the overall impact of this remarkable achievement.
Threnodies stands as a deep and enthralling listen. A modern day mix of progressive rock , hard rock and psychedelia that looks set to carry Messenger’s remarkable journey ever onwards into the future…