Metz had essentially one setting on their self-titled debut album: pummel. That’s all they needed. The Toronto-based noise-rock trio milked their manic, furious approach for all it was worth, delivering one of the heaviest non-metal albums of 2012, as well as one that served as a reminder of the kind of unapologetic ferocity that punk and indie rock were once capable of. And though Metz’s debut wasn’t terribly diverse, it didn’t really need to be. Within the framework of a two-chord punk rock thrasher like “Wet Blanket,” Metz proved themselves adept at both menacing atmosphere and memorable songcraft. Though their volume never dropped below deafening, and their impact rarely less than crushing, Metz created something both artful and endlessly replayable within that simple and effective approach.
A quick look at the lineup of instruments on Metz’s second album, II, at least initially suggests a slight change of course. This time around, the band dabbled in using piano, synth, baritone guitar, tape loops, and samples of found sounds, in addition to their typical guitar, bass and drums. But you’re going to have to listen a lot more carefully if you expect to find them. As much effort as the trio put into fleshing out their sound on II, they put just as much, if not more, effort into ensuring these 29 minutes surpassed the intensity and darkness of their previous 29. Leader Alex Edkins described the sound that he wanted as one that “punches you in the gut,” and that pretty accurately summarizes the level of force behind these 10 tracks.
From an aesthetic standpoint, Metz II doesn’t stretch too far beyond the guitar-heavy shriek ‘n’ grind of the group’s debut. This is still the same punk band, bashing away at dissonant chords and testing the limits of what a rock club’s sound system can realistically withstand. The blitzkrieg of riffs and rumble is familiar, but considerably sharper and more potent than even the harshest moments of their debut. Leadoff track “Acetate” contains most of the same elements as those of past highlights (Hayden Menzies’ gunshot snare sounds, Chris Slorach’s wonderfully ugly fuzz bass, lots of distortion), but the band sews them together with greater care and attention to detail. Edkins’ guitar creeps and shrieks with well-measured doses of reverb and delay, and his escalating riffs in the song’s final minute signify not just power or energy, but palpable menace, as echoed by the lyrics (“She’s barely breathing/I’m wading through puddles on the floor“).
The landscape of II often feels more dangerous than that of its predecessor, and as a result the material has an excitement and electricity that pushes it a few steps forward. The songs are still mostly simple and straightforward in terms of their structure, but Edkins, Slorach and Menzies still twist these searing, three-chord roars into complex, mutant shapes. The main riff of “Spit You Out” is woozy and psychedelic, yet its chorus is one of the album’s most triumphantly hostile moments. The opening riff of “I.O.U.” is obscured by tape-hiss, which makes an already tense and abrasive sound one more likely to put you on edge. By comparison, a similar effect in “Eyes Peeled” has almost the opposite result, dulling the impact of what turns out to be one of the most sudden explosions of sound on the album. Even that’s just a prologue to Edkins’ seething screams, which may or may not be his most amazingly unhinged moment, though it certainly has competition. And it’s hard to tell what’s more unsettling — his cathartic screech, or the nihilistic, dead-eyed John Lydon-esque cadence that accompanies those moments just before everything gets blown to hell.
A surprising by-product of the extra push toward something heavier and more harrowing is an unexpected catchiness amid all the chaos and rancor. The reading of the title of “Wait in Line” in its chorus features not just one of the band’s best hooks, but something that almost approaches a vocal harmony. These little moments of joy inside Metz’s venom and vitriol creep in frequently and unexpectedly throughout the album, and though it’s not quite right to say they add any levity to their noise-rock shrieks, what they do add is a bit more approachability to what’s ultimately a set of songs that offer little breathing room. When every track arrives at such a dazzling, head-spinning clip, you can save your breath for when you know you’ve survived it, and the whole thing collapses in a heap of feedback and noise.