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Strange Peace is the third album from the Toronto noise-rock outfit METZ, and it's anything but peaceful. Starting with their self-titled debut for Sub Pop records, the trio of singer-guitarist Alex Edkins, bassist Chris Slorach, and drummer Hayden Menzies has raised a healthy if unholy racket, a sound that sits somewhere between the dissonant aggression of Shellac and the off-kilter hooks of Pixies. That hasn't changed on Strange Peace — but the world around it has.
Recorded with Shellac's mastermind Steve Albini, Strange Peace is an album that doesn't need to be explicitly political to make a statement about our current chaotic climate. The opening track, "Mess Of Wires," gallops out of the gate like a malfunctioning industrial robot, a tangle of mechanical riffs and Edkins' oddly infectious chants. The band's ability to inject melody into the weirdest of places is most striking on "Cellophane." Slightly more laidback than the usual METZ song, it's closer to a garage-rock anthem than a skin-peeling punk rager, and Edkins' refrain of "How will I know? / How will I know?" is designed to lodge itself in the brain of the listener like some insidious implant.
Uncertainty is the overriding sensation induced by Strange Peace. "Lost In The Blank City" begins with what almost sounds like the keys of a typewriter slamming mercilessly on paper. From there, it creeps and crawls through a minefield of disoriented guitar and lurching beats. "You hold me close to your skin," Edkins howls, and it's an expression of revulsion rather than romance. He doesn't play the guitar so much as strangle it on "Mr. Plague," a pummeling yet jaunty ode to a clearly unsavory character, complete with one of Slorach's typically rubbery basslines.
It makes perfect sense that Albini is at the album's helm. One of his most famous productions, Nirvana's nerve-shredding In Utero, casts a long, jagged shadow over Strange Peace. On "Common Trash," METZ's debt to Kurt Cobain and company is apparent — underneath all the distortion and angst, it's pop music, only contorted and deconstructed with gleeful mania.
At under a minute, "Escalator Teeth" is the album's shortest song. At almost six minutes, "Raw Materials" is its lengthiest. Between the two, the full scope of Strange Peace becomes clear. "Escalator Teeth" is a burst of staccato cacophony in which Edkins inhumanly praises the virtues of "machine-like repetition"; "Raw Materials" slams and churns until collapsing into a ringing, breathless bridge reminiscent of Sonic Youth. "For me, Strange Peace is sort of the idea of the eerie, calm-before-the-storm feel," Edkins said recently on the podcast Culture Creature , "having the feeling that things are going to change, and maybe not for the better." That said, it's cathartic rather than hopeless — an exorcism of nervous energy at a time when it's direly needed.