Madmess, the London-based Portuguese psych-rockers are releasing their debut album, Rebirth on 10th December via Hassle Records. Rebirth is a record of rare intensity; crushing riffs colliding with sweeping waves of overwhelming noise, both beautiful and brutal.
Madmess are a band who know the value of doing things the hard way. Having established themselves among the outliers of Porto’s fertile, close-knit underground music scene, by 2017 it was clear that they had the potential to go much, much further. London, and its bigger, more merciless leftfield circuit beckoned. In a city full to the brim with bold and brilliant bands, the bar was significantly raised. Risks were many, but so too were opportunities. Now, after years of slog – gruelling gigs, punishing recording sessions,not to mention a momentum-sapping pandemic – bassist Vasco Vasconcelos, drummer Luis Moura and guitarist Ricardo Sampaio, have emerged the other side with their debut album, Rebirth.
Not that their roots in Porto are unimportant, of course. We have the city to thank for the band’s sinuous mix of heady psychedelia, sprawling stoner jams and searing space rock for a start. As well as the trio’s own diverse set of influences – the mad mess of which their name pays tribute to – they grew up in a scene where cross-pollination of styles isn’t just fostered, but a part of the fabric.
By the time the band self-released their self-titled debut EP in 2019, Madmess had picked up significant momentum. The sound captured on that record, darker and more primal than their new album, is all the evidence you need that they were standing out from the pack – a hectic, delightful cataclysm of sprawling heavy psych. They were booking more and more shows, headlining more streamlined bills and starting to tour across Europe with a number of high-profile festival shows booked. “We finally felt like we were getting somewhere,” Sampaio explains. But then, adds Moura, “Just as we were hitting the breakthrough, it was all cancelled. We still haven’t played those festivals, they’re postponed for another year still. It felt like time just stopped.”
Thankfully, Madmess aren’t the types to shrink in the face of a setback. With Moura and Vascencelos’ day jobs tending bar indefinitely cancelled, “we had more time to compose,” says the former. They resisted the urge to return to Portugal in order to refine their efforts in London, and midway through the first lockdown secured a deal with Brighton indie label Drone Rock Records for a re-release of their debut EP, this time on a run of 300 vinyl copies. It turned out not just to be a tiding over, but a major success. The pandemic saw a surge in support for musicians among fans online, and with everyone stuck at home vinyl sales were booming. Amid rave reviews, copies of the EP rapidly sold out.
As the pandemic eased, at least temporarily, the band signed up with London based independent Hassle Records before escaping to Foel Studios in the Welsh countryside, formerly used by iconic psych rock forebears Amon Düül and Hawkwind among others, to start work on their new LP. They were intent to build on the solid foundations they’d set with their EP the previous year. “We tried to do something more complete, more punchy,” says Sampaio. The sessions ended up being more intense than they were anticipating – the band record everything live, and when you’re playing the kind of complex epics that populate Rebirth there’s not much margin for error. “The shortest track is eight minutes, and they’re almost all more than 10,” says Sampaio with a wince. “The songs on this album are really complex, there were some stressful times, some harsh moments, but we managed to get through it.”
Despite all the setbacks over the past year, Madmess are in a stronger position than ever, and with their debut LP, now feel destined to truly take off. “We want to be unique and unpredictable,” says Sampaio. “The bands we like, some of them took 20 years to make it. They stay on the road for years until they were properly recognised.” Luis concurs. “We just wanna play, man! We want to release at least one album a year. More fans, more gigs, more records!”