“She’s barely breathing.” Just three words into the new METZ record, the situation is already bleak. It doesn’t matter what came before or how the band ended up in this mess. What’s clear is that they have to do something about it or things are going to get worse. Then things do.
METZ are a Sub Pop act, and it’s easy to see how their mayhem fits into the label’s history. There are plenty of reasons to bring up Nirvana, who signed to the label in the late ’80s. And, while those comparisons are well-founded, they’re not the end of the conversation. METZ are more than an homage. Their music gives the impression that they’ve studied their predecessors, mastered their act, tried to find the next step forward, and asked, “Is it possible to make bands like Nirvana and Black Flag sound even more pulverizing?”
The Toronto trio’s brutal self-titled debut had an overpowering bite to it, but with its sequel, METZ II, the band files its teeth down into fangs to make it easier to rip out jugulars. This new album makes its predecessor feel downright hooky in comparison. The guitars screech and contort more loudly, the drums rumble like a monster flick, and frontman Alex Edkins’ screams feel even more damning and tattered. After 20 months of touring, they’ve finally found a way to channel the energy from their live sets into recorded form.
On opener “Acetate”, Edkins’ guitar slithers into frame before bassist Chris Slorach makes a guttural, menacing entrance. The song is a microcosm of what to expect on the rest of the album before METZ spiral into the even meaner “The Swimmer”, which opens with frantic clanging drums and what sounds like the chime of a battered piano.
Drummer Hayden Menzies is the not-so-secret weapon of the group. Every kick drum pound and snare smack feels more devastating than the last. The mix does him great favors, too, giving his kit that “oh my God, run for your life!” sound. This is especially true on closer “Kicking a Can of Worms”. It’s not that he’s playing with great complexity; in fact, it’s one of the sparsest performances on the album. But each hit feels like part of a master plan. The surge coming from him lifts up the rest of the band while simultaneously making it feel like your headphones will explode at any moment.
Things don’t get “better” or “brighter” on this album; it just gets bleaker and more harrowing. As seen in METZ’s past work, this intersection is where the band thrives. There’s really only one moment on the album where they let up, and that’s on the interlude “Zzyzx”, which mixes found audio with the band tuning up in the studio. Even so, it feels like a twisted clip from a nightmare inserted into the album before the band launches into “I.O.U.”, a punk anthem.
The album is an exercise in dissonance that can really only be appreciated when played at full volume. It cements the band as a frontrunner for the hardest-hitting, meanest, and most aggressive contemporary punk act. But it’s not all brashness for the sake of brashness. While METZ’s first album was a reflection on the anxiety and hysteria of living in a big city, this is an album more concerned with death.
Having lost loved ones in the past years, Edkins recently told Noisey that the album “just feels more human.” It’s easy to hear what he’s talking about. If this album were to fit into the stages of grief, it’d most obviously be anger, but it also holds more complex emotions like frustration, disgust, and loneliness. He doesn’t have to voice his feelings outright — the pissed-off and manic guitar lines do that for him. There are still moments where he could be alluding to his personal turmoil, like on single “Spit You Out”, where he calls out to someone who promised they’d “come to [him]” but never did make good on it. Instead of mourning, he lashes out, spitting words out like sour milk.
Later, on “Landfill”, Edkins sentences himself to crawling around in garbage and filth. Between the swirling riffs and screaming, the music breaks down for one moment for Edkins to sing in a muffled monotone, “I don’t know what I believe in/ All this shit’s just piling up.” It could be a thesis for the entire album.
Listening to METZ II is an overwhelming experience. It may take a few listens to soak in all the vitriol and venom, but it’s worth the effort. It’s hard to imagine them getting even louder and more fervent, but if there’s a band that’s capable of doing just that, it’s undoubtedly METZ.
Essential Tracks: “Acetate”, “Kicking a Can of Worms”, and “Landfill”