Album Review: Metz, ‘II’
It might be hard to imagine from our current cultural perspective, but from the late '80s through the late '90s, the term "indie rock" held significantly different connotations than it does today. Torontonian trio Metz draws from the underground sensibility of that time period, where brute force and abrasion had been co-opted from metal by a new breed of intellectually agitated bands who eschewed hard rock cliches in favor of austere production values. At the center of that ethos was producer Steve Albini, whose dogmatic, naturalist recording style verged on deprivation.
Albini's work with the Jesus Lizard, the Pixies and Nirvana would forever enshrine his working methods in the national spotlight, but he also served as a de-facto spiritual figurehead for a slew of independent bands crisscrossing the country in vans. Surprisingly, few of those bands left footprints online, but if you listen to Albini's own (and still-active) group Shellac or, say, Chicago math-rock trio Neutrino, it helps place where Metz are coming from.
Which is not to say that Metz simply re-create Albini's ultra-dry production style. Producing their sophomore album II on their own -- once again with the assistance of engineer Graham Walsh -- Metz manage to capture the pummeling intensity of the aforementioned acts while adding just enough of a sonic sparkle to give their music a contemporary character.
Where Metz honor -- and surpass -- their predecessors, though, is in their ability to layer-in subtle sonic touches: a chord spraying a quick-dissipating burst of melody into the abrasion here, a sung note tucked into the screaming there. This time around, the band expands on the single-mindedness of its 2012 self-titled debut by adding secondary instrumentation like baritone guitar, piano, keyboards, tape loops and found-sound samples. But those augmentations support rather than dilute guitarist-vocalist Alex Edkins' main thrust -- which, if you had to sum it up in one word, would be: frustration.
Still, Edkins makes several nods to Johnny Rotten's style of singing, inflecting melody into his attitude. Not to mention the well of sonic information that comes across once you get past the initial force of the music. Yeah, this album sounds loud -- like you're sitting three feet from an amplifier cabinet -- but there's more to capturing that kind of immediacy than merely turning up the faders. The sensation of volume literally conjures images of paint peeling, but Metz haven't forgotten to show us the colors of that paint.
As such, II qualifies as much as a triumph of DIY production as a marker of musical evolution.