hat’s up with the crazy amount of stellar bands hailing from north of the border these days?
Come to think of it, Canada has long bred some of the best musical acts of the last four decades — from Neil Young and Joni Mitchell to Godspeed You! Black Emperor and The Arcade Fire, the place is seemingly awash in creatively vital artists.
Add Toronto-based trio METZ to the ever-growing list of Canadian keepers. The band’s 2012 self-titled debut for Sub Pop Records is a corrosive, no doubt Steve Albini-approved blast of Post Punk, with appropriately agitated titles like “Headache,” “Get Off,” “Sad Pricks,” “Nausea,” “Wasted” and “Negative Space.” It’s often hard to discern what the hell frontman Alex Edkins is raging on about, but it doesn’t matter much when your frontal lobe is blown off via the trio’s lacerating racket, which sounds like In Utero-era Nirvana on fast-forward or Fugazi at its immersive, air-raid-siren best.
“We did want to make a kind of abrasive record,” Edkins says via cellphone from band practice in Toronto. “We wanted our first record to be a punch in the face. Short and to the point.”
While it might seem that METZ has appeared out of nowhere, armed with a fully realized vision and an uncommonly visceral live show, Edkins says the guys have been honing their approach for more than half a decade. He and drummer Hayden Menzies played in multiple Hardcore outfits in their hometown of Ottawa, Canada, before forming METZ in 2007. Eager for a change of scenery, a year later the pair moved to Toronto, where they added bassist Chris Slorach and where they encountered a more diverse musical landscape than the insular scene of their sonic youth.
The trio recorded their 10-song debut with the help of Graham Walsh (from fellow Toronto band Holy Fuck) and engineer Alexandre Bonenfant (who’s worked with everyone from Crystal Castles to Avril Lavigne) and started engaging various labels, eventually signing up with iconic Seattle indie imprint Sub Pop.
“I think that was just kind of weird luck,” Edkins says, his Canadian accent in full effect. “We ended up playing with Mudhoney a couple times and, from what I hear, Mark (Arm) just went back to Seattle and said, ‘You should check these guys out,’ and they eventually did. It was just one of those things where we were playing shows and it kind of naturally happened. We couldn’t be happier. They’re great people. They’re like family.”
The Sub Pop marriage makes sense on multiple levels. METZ’s songs recall the label’s sonically raucous start-up days (as well as the influential late-’80s Post Punk acts that dotted the roster of like-minded indies Dischord and Touch and Go). Then there’s the band’s black-and-white record-sleeve art, which conjures the work of photographer Charles Peterson, whose stark photos appeared on and became the signature of Sub Pop’s best-known early releases.
Edkins isn’t surprised that one might see such touchstones in his band’s approach, but he’s quick to say it all came together rather organically.
“We’re all in our early thirties and we grew up listening to the Touch and Go stuff and the Dischord stuff, that’s kind of our common ground,” he says. “Sub Pop is in there as well. A lot of those early bands we really dig, but I just think we came by it really naturally. The aesthetic of the album, the sound — that’s just the music that we make when the three of us get together, because that’s what we grew up on.”
The trio has toured almost nonstop since the record came out last October, their sweaty, dynamic live shows no doubt converting more fans in the process. In fact, if anything, the band’s terse songs roar even more righteously in a live setting.
“It’s been really fun,” Edkins says of the touring, which culminates later this year with shows across Europe and a series of gigs in Australia and New Zealand. “I don’t think we would have even considered touring at that length unless we were having a good time. It just made sense to do it with this album, so we went for it. We’ve been lucky enough to go all over the world with this record and play for all kinds of cool people. It’s been awesome.”
The first thing one notices at a METZ show is the sheer physicality required to convey the songs. Menzies, a relentless drummer whose monstrous pounding infects everything in its wake, anchors the band’s sound, which comes at the audience in all-encompassing waves.
“He’s my favorite drummer, without a doubt,” Edkins says. “It’s awesome to kind of build upon what he puts down. A lot of people mention how loud we are and stuff, but that’s never a conscious thing. It’s mostly just because of Hayden. We have to crank our amps over top of him just to be heard. He’s definitely a huge, huge part in arranging the songs. That feel and that kind of abrasive approach is largely him.”
While they welcome the attention that’s come their way, they also concede that the experience has been a bit surreal for three guys used to playing in basements and small clubs. For Edkins, who came of age reading Punk ’zines and ordering records via mail order, the positive reception has certainly exceeded expectations; even a publication as seemingly genteel as The New Yorker gave METZ props, calling the band’s debut one 2012’s best albums.
“(It) definitely wasn’t our expectation for any of this to happen, especially on the first record,” Edkins says. “You kind of have zero expectations. You don’t know if anyone is even going to hear it. For it to get the kind of attention and response that it has is just way beyond what we anticipated. We’ve managed to reach a lot more people than we thought we would.
“We never got into this style of music with the goal of selling records,” Edkins continues. “It was always that we kind of wanted to make something that we loved, that we knew maybe a couple like-minded people would love, too.”
METZ performs at the MidPoint Music Festival 8 p.m. Saturday on the Grammer’s/Dewey’s stage. More: mpmf.com.