By: Kyle Shaffer
I’m walking up to Sonic Boom Records in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, and I spot Metz drummer Hayden Menzies outside smoking a pre-show cigarette. Our eyes meet, and though we don’t say anything to each other, an understanding seems established in a glance. Maybe something like a handshake-waiver, outlining that if a sizeable chunk of the ceiling plummets due to the relentless pummeling of his Ludwigs during their set, Menzies and the other dudes won’t be liable for my fate or anyone else’s. Either way, I’m not the litigious type, and it wouldn’t be a bad way to go.
That night is the first time I hear many of the songs on Strange Peace, the Toronto trio’s third full-length, and what strikes me as I put the needle to the wax after I bring home a copy is how much the record captures what I’d seen from their performance earlier. Maybe it’s Steve Albini being behind the board for this release, or maybe it’s the goddamn wood the studio’s live room was made out of, but the record sounds like you’re sitting in front of the band all over again - like you could be forgiven for thinking one of the dudes had just sweat on you at the close of a song, even though you’re alone in your living room.
Opener “Mess of Wires” is a case in point - rolling over itself in a massive, noisy waltz that showcases the band’s skill at blending heavy wall-of-sound riffs with repetition that makes for one of the most wonderfully hypnotic tracks on the record. Even where the band experiments with in-studio sounds like the alien metallic twangs on “Drained Lake” or the rapid-delay and vocal feedback on “Escalator Teeth,” the additions are all in service to the main thrust of the song, and never distract or sound like tack-on novelties. Similarly, the dissonant, slow-burn lilt of “Caterpillar” almost feels like a rest-stop to allow the listener to catch their breath, with its steady solo guitar line and more subdued delivery from guitarist/vocalist Alex Edkins. But the track totally works as a prologue to the swelling build-up in the next track “Lost In The Blank City”. Even in these uncharacteristically expansive tracks, Metz bakes in the same anxiety and tension that stays at the center of their sound, and keeps continuity both within the record, and with the band’s past releases.
I don’t mean to make it sound like Metz are chilling out or anything. The record is still loud - the songs still slam, and one need only listen to the feedback and hammering rhythms on “Mr. Plague” or the immense riff that opens “Cellophane” to be reassured that this is the same band. Nowhere is this melding of the new and the old more effective than on the closing track “Raw Materials,” arguably the best song on the record. Edkins’ opening riff is damn near an At The Drive-In outtake, with the guitar line wriggling and constricting like the cobra on the album cover, before the song opens up, slows mid-way through, and finally slams to a halt. The kicker is that you won’t even have realized the track spans six minutes, but that’s kind of how this record goes. It’s hard to think of an album that pushes so hard at a band’s own boundaries, while sounding so firmly rooted and comfortable in its own skin, but Strange Peace has this in spades.