Metz: Keeping 'Em Honest

Music Features Metz
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It’s midway through Metz’s Ferndale, Mich., set when the band pauses, finally, for a breather. There are three guys up on the stage, but that oft-used label feels dirty—wrong—after that display. Power trio. That’s not what’s on stage at Ferndale’s Loving Touch. Metz’s noise dwarfed that term, and in 2015, the band’s live show is one of rock’s most kinetic, and best—even if the sources of that noise are pared down to three dudes.

Take a third of the Metz puzzle, Alex Edkins, whose gnarly guitar tones come from an unexpected combo. Edkins plays an Elvis Costello-worthy setup: a Fender Jazzmaster guitar through a Twin Reverb amp, though that Jazzmaster, a taste for thick-framed glasses, the knack for immediate songwriting—that’s where the comparisons end between the two. His wiry guitar attack is a key part of the Metz sound—one vital third that cuts through the low rumble of bassist Chris Slorach and drummer Hayden Menzies. And the last time these three brought this noise to metro Detroit—a four-hour hop from the band’s native Toronto—Metz assembled in one of Detroit’s artist hubs, the Griswold Lofts, where they (and their openers, Child Bite) nearly blew out the power. Through new and old material alike, Metz’s proper Detroit-area return has only blown out eardrums.

So when Edkins finally takes a second to talk, he looks wiped. His clear-framed glasses are opaque with fog, his short-sleeved Oxford now dark blue with sweat. Edkins—who’s been screaming his head off for the better part of 20 minutes, and whose vocal cords seem no worse for the wear—steps up to the microphone. Some kid in the mosh pit has lost his keys.

Does anyone here drive a…minivan?

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Here in Ferndale, with Metz opening for noise legends Lightning Bolt, their growth is easily measured. After all, they’re in a proper venue, one with proper fans screaming along to the songs—a minivan driver among the more passionate ranks of the crowd. “Metz” was a phrase as buzzy in the pre-show line as “Lightning” or “Bolt.” But two weeks before, when I catch up with Edkins by phone as he preps for the tour, the vocalist assures that Metz’s sophomore release, the aptly titled Metz II, would’ve happened no matter who was listening.

“We’ve always done this because we wanted to, and we certainly weren’t ready or expecting the response we got,” he says. “I’m certain all three of us had the intent of continuing on with it, whatever result there were. We just love making music together and playing gigs, no matter how big or small they are. We tried not to think that much about what it all meant. We just went with our gut and tried as hard as we could to pretend that things were just like they used to be.”

And if that last line reeks of pressure around a potential sophomore slump, it’s there. Not from Metz’s label, Sub Pop, which Edkins assures was completely hands-off in the recording process. And not from the Internet—though the band found it hard not to absorb the discussion around its heavy approach.

“It was us,” Edkins says. “Even on the first record, when we thought just our friends would hear that or it’d have a small release, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we want to at least please ourselves.”

Here’s what pleased Metz on LP2: some well-placed tweaks to their sound—otherwise, it’s that familiar, B.S.-free attack we learned well on their first LP. Though new listeners would be surprised to hear it, Metz II sees the band tapping the brakes and drawing out their punk rock runtimes into the three, four-minute mark. The all-tape recording, done over six months in Toronto in a warts-and-all live style, retains a murkier aesthetic. “It may be slight to some people, but to us there are some pretty huge changes production-wise and song-wise,” Edkins says. Most importantly, the band became a more confident studio entity—credit due to their years on the road since Metz’s release. But ultimately, it all comes back to that live show:

“The one thing that we kind of use as a limitation is the live show,” Edkins says. “What can we do that’s still going to have that power just with the three of us on stage? Whenever we’re adding layers, it becomes painfully aware that we can’t replicate this on stage and it’s maybe not a lesser version, but a very different version live. We want to keep it true to the original song with the three of us in the room.”

Lyrically, Metz II doesn’t contain stories. The tracks that make up the album are screamable abstractions—songs made to set a mood, to draw out a physical response from listeners. And while most of the frustrations that make up Metz II are big-picture problems—the human condition, the current state of our blue-and-green world—Edkins isn’t looking to solve or come to any conclusions with Metz. “The music allows you to vent in a pretty great way,” he says. “I’d never be as naive to think there’s answers for these questions, or that I could possibly communicate that with anyone.” Instead, he’s providing an outlet for his community—and bringing like-minded individuals together in the process.

And on this spring night in Detroit, Edkins’ crowd has banded together. Minivan kid comes up to the front of the crowd and—like his band did through the recording of Metz II—Edkins keeps him honest. He’s staring at the set of keys. He asks the kid, “what model?”

The kid tells him, and Edkins hands the keys over.

“Music brings people together,” Edkins says into the mic. “It’s fucking beautiful.”

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