Words by Jordan Martich
Toronto noise rock trio METZ have spent the past five years establishing a reputation for furious recordings that are only surpassed by the band’s hyper-adrenalized live show. On their latest from this year, Strange Peace, the trio assert a layered order to chaos and volume. It’s noise rock that doesn’t rely on gaudy riffs or cheap screeching. It’s dark pop music that’s surrendered to a hedonistic warping.
Drummer Hayden Menzies, bassist Chris Slorach and guitarist Alex Edkins have crafted an album that envelopes the audience, both sonically and in the hypnotic nature of Edkins’ existentially charged lyrics. The record is a push forward in complexity from the tone of their previous two LP’s, which balanced between dour heaviness and calculating snarl.
“I think our band is constantly changing and evolving slowly,” said Edkins. “We are always hoping to extend what it is we do. We try to challenge ourselves while making records as well as on stage.”
There’s always been space at Sub Pop Records for the loud and the lewd. The independent Seattle label is known for its association with the progenitors of grunge, even backing those ’90s legends like Lou Barlow and J Mascis as they embark upon solo careers. Well-known bands like Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Dinosaur Jr. made a name for the label in the early ’90s because of their unruly approaches to music – a trail that METZ certainly follows, though Edkins admits that the label wasn’t a big part of his teenage listening.
“I was never very interested in the ‘grunge’ phenomena at the time,” He admits. “I was far more interested in older hardcore records at that point. Mostly bands putting out records on Dischord.”
The band shares more connection with Nirvana than just the Sub Pop label, including a nihilistic tenacity, a knack for deconstructing pop, and the help of recording engineer Steve Albini of Electrical Audio Studio in Chicago. Albini’s style is one of minimal interference which makes a band sound loud, sincere and bigger than ever. Records he’s worked on can be found in just about everyone’s all-time top 10 lists, like the Pixies‘ Surfer Rosa, the Jesus Lizard‘s GOAT, the Breeders‘ POD, and Nirvana’s In Utero. Much like In Utero, Strange Peace is self-reflective and ambitious, with songs that reanimate the band’s ouvre while exploring new ideas. Edkins attributes this to the machine-like business of recording with Albini, an exercise in not over-thinking.
“We recorded live and with very little afterthought. It was a spontaneous and speedy process,” He said. “We didn’t allow ourselves the luxury of fixing things with computers so we knew that whatever made it to tape was the finished product.”
Strange Peace finds the band worshipping at the throne of instability, digging deep into personal discomfort in the fight for whatever peace that process will bring. The songs draw from confusion, from a severe need for understanding. In the prolonged repetitions of raging guitar lines and blasting drum beats we find that the answer may not matter, that maybe persistence is enough to outlast the hopelessness. Droning from tortured riffs into calmer, triumphant seas, METZ illustrates a larger grasp on their music with this record. Strange Peacest resonates with a shift in understanding that they struggle gracefully to articulate over the course of the record.
“We felt confident to go new places, to create atmosphere, to let songs spread out and breathe,” Edkins said. “We wanted a more varied dynamic range. We realized that without quiet, there is no loud.”
Torrential cascades of ripping distortion like the enduring riff of “Mess of Wires” drag the listener through an obstacle course of anger, an homage to a jagged and industrial world while songs like “Sink” conjure melodies made for waiting out the rain, lost in thought. The desperate bob of songs like “Common Trash” legitimize the pop intentions of METZ – there are exultant hooks and a truly satisfying bridge. The brevity of crashing tracks like “Dig a Hole” and “Escalator Teeth” retain METZ’s ability to be destructive as well as constructive, but nothing compares to the sullen romp of “Cellophane” — the refrain of the chorus churns, “How will I know it’s real? How will I know?” All of this pales when compared to the release of the band’s live performance, however, an event known for blood, sweat and athletic bravado.
“Playing live is an incredibly visceral and physical thing,” Edkins said. “There is really nothing that can compare to that feeling of sharing your music with an audience in a live setting. You get immediate reciprocation and you can see how the music is affecting the crowd.”
From today’s roster, METZ’s closest match at Sub Pop would be the indomitable Pissed Jeans, though METZ lacks their signature strong-armed vitriol, trading instead for post-punk hooks and clever instrumentals. A new crop of artists from across all different genres haven taken the stage to channel a collective cultural anger, METZ among them, as well as fellow Sub Pop bands So Pitted, clipping., and even older acts like the Melvins and Hot Snakes. The overwhelming enthusiasm for music that is loud, fast, and menacing suggests a simple fact about the times we live in: It feels good to bang your head.
Jordan Martich is a writer and musician living in Oakland. He drinks too much coffee and doesn’t go to the beach enough.