Raw, belligerent, dissonant and powerful: That's just the tip of the noise-rock iceberg when it comes to Metz's self-titled debut from 2012. Released by Sub Pop, Metz helped inject a fresh dose of fierce punk spirit into the record label that brought the world Nirvana, but has lately focused more on tuneful indie rock. But with that kind of expectation in place, what room does that leave for growth?
As it turns out, the Toronto trio is as good at construction as demolition. It's taken three years for singer-guitarist Alex Edkins, bassist Chris Slorach and drummer Hayden Menzies to release II, the follow-up to their Polaris Prize-shortlisted debut. In that time, the group has honed its sonic attack to an even keener edge — but it's also broadened its horizons when it comes to studio wizardry and songcraft.
That's not to say Metz hasn't always written solid songs. But the meat-and-potatoes thump of Metz has been stretched and restructured on II. The result is breathtaking — in the same way a fist to the solar plexus is. On "Acetate," Edkins' reverb-addled vocals hover over scalding guitar, but the lurching, whiplash rhythms of Slorach and Menzies open up sporadically, leaving yawing chasms of open space into which Edkins pours his fear and rage. "Nervous System" employs a similar formula, but the song's stop-start tension is slathered in echoes and concussive bursts of static. Yet there's a grainy bit of distorted piano stuck at the beginning, an eerie, otherworldly intro that hints at Metz's deeper intentions. This isn't just purgative music hell-bent on bloodletting and catharsis; it's also carefully composed, with loving attention paid to fine detail and immaculate precision.
In addition to piano, II features fleeting hints of synthesizers, tape loops and found-sound recordings, all exquisitely spliced into eruptions of elemental fury. There are also pop hooks — of the mangled variety, sure, but enough to turn tracks like "I.O.U." and "Wait in Line" into savage, squiggly anthems that worm their way under the skin. Even "Spit You Out," with its off-kilter swagger and shattered-glass riffs, lodges an infectious chorus amid the band's screaming, unhinged abandon.
The best punk isn't an assault as much as it's a challenge — to what's normal, to what's comfortable, or simply to what's expected. Teetering on the edge of perpetual implosion, Metz seems obsessed with how far it can push its own warped vision of punk. If self-deconstruction were an Olympic event, Edkins, Slorach and Menzies would take the gold for Canada, hands down. At well over four minutes, "Kicking a Can of Worms" is more than just an endurance test: Bookended by a abrasive, acoustic guitar intro and an epic, white-static coda, the song bristles with cerebral coldness. But it's also an emotionally exhausting exhibition of shame, loathing and futility, unpleasant things that are too often packed into the back of the brain to fester. On II, Metz bravely does its festering — as well as its growing up — in public.