Metz tap into a new energy

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Metz interview

“Light Your Way Home,” the final song on Up on Gravity Hill, is the kind of song you wouldn’t have expected to hear on a Metz album a half-decade ago. More specifically, it’s a ballad—kind of. Perhaps it’s more accurate to describe it as a dirge in the same universe as the heavy post-metal shoegaze of Jesu or Cloakroom. It’s slow, beautiful, powerful, with a surplus of open space, as if to give the listener a moment to catch their breath and look up at the star-filled sky for a moment.

It’s also not a song that singer and guitarist Alex Edkins initially expected to make it on to the record as he was writing it.

“I think I did that song in 10 minutes and flippantly showed the guys and expected them to say ‘oh cool’ and I’d just file that away, but they were really really excited about it, so we kept going with it,” Edkins says via a Zoom call from his home in Toronto. “That was a big one, where those guys were open to the difference in sonics and atmospheric and the slower tempo, which was new ground for us.”

Metz have traveled a great distance since the release of their self-titled debut album back in 2012, which has never been quite so apparent as it is on Up on Gravity Hill, arriving this month via their longtime label Sub Pop. The Toronto trio built their brand on punishing, two-minute outbursts of noise-rock intensity, custom crafted for a particularly throttling live experience. And they’re still very much that band—Edkins’ taut, barbed-wire guitar leads entangled with the colossally heavy rhythm section of bassist Chris Slorach and drummer Hayden Menzies—even if they allowed themselves the luxury of including some slower and more contemplative material.

They’re also, in many ways, a different band now than when they started. They’ve matured and experienced much more over the past decade, and likewise have opened themselves up to new musical approaches. While Up on Gravity Hill in large part still comprises the punchy sound of a trio hammering out heavy rock music together, it’s rife with fascinating subtleties. First single “99,” for instance, injects an infectious pop chorus into an otherwise abrasive noise rock scrape, while the garagey immediacy of “Entwined (Street Light Buzz)” evolves into a more nuanced juxtaposition of arpeggiated jangle and layered harmonies.

From the outside, it feels like a considerable shift in direction, though Edkins considers it part of the natural pace the band’s kept since the beginning.

“For us it’s always been a pretty gradual thing,” he says. “Especially to listeners. For us, every record has been a monumental leap but I don’t know if that’s shared to people on the outside. There weren’t these huge stylistic shifts happening with our records. But inside the band we were really proud and happy to these additions we were making to production, additions to song structure and melody. They’ve always been a part of us but never this overnight change. It’s happened slowly, so that continues, that search for ways to do what we do is exciting for us.”

Metz’s last album, 2020’s Atlas Vending, arrived in the doldrums of pandemic lockdown, the group unable to tour behind it or do much promotion of any kind. But in the years since, Edkins took the opportunity to explore a handful of other projects, including the bright garage rock/power pop of Weird Nightmare and the psychedelic excursions of Noble Rot. And bassist Chris Slorach joined fellow cacophonists The Armed around the release of their 2021 album Ultrapop.

Taking the opportunity to explore different musical projects offered the members of Metz a chance to highlight aspects of their musical personalities that maybe don’t necessarily present themselves as being firmly within their signature sound. But they also inevitably—if not necessarily in obvious ways—influenced the direction of the band once they began working on new music again, showcasing a more comprehensive selection of tones comprising their overall palette.

“Living in Toronto, I know so many talented people and friends I can easily collaborate with, so why the hell not,” Edkins says of his various projects outside of Metz. “Metz started as three guys who liked hanging out and having a beer, and jamming, and then it turned into our jobs. It was very shocking, and those six years there from the beginning, they just flew by and were a blur. And then you stop and say, ‘look where we are.’

“As an artist there’s so much you want to do and so much you love,” he continues. “When you look at one person’s record collection, it’s not just one type of music, it’s everywhere. And it can all be part of you and your tastes and your appreciation of art. So it felt incredible to do these different projects and made me love Metz even more and made me appreciate what was pure and powerful about what we do. If you just go along with your head down for too long, you can lose sight of that.”

I think we want to make records you can live in more and give you a range of emotions

The passage of time since those early days of bashing away over a round of beers isn’t lost on the members of Metz; in 2022, the group played their debut album in its entirety on a North American tour and released a deluxe digital edition of the album featuring a handful of bonus tracks. Revisiting this earlier period in the band’s development also gave them a chance to reflect on how they’ve grown on a personal level; since then, for instance, Edkins has become a father, and Metz has gone from a passion project to a full-time entity. He says that their artistic mission has, in part, changed as well.

“It makes you realize how different a person you were when it was made,” he says. “I also probably could not recognize that person. As a band, we were so on our own trip. We were clearly doing this one thing that we loved, that was that one-two punch, minute-and-a-half, two-minute crushing blast thing, that was so clearly all we wanted out of music in our lives. And the things you want from music change over time. Don’t get me wrong, I still want that too, but I think we want to make records you can live in more and give you a range of emotions and a range of sounds that hit more of those sweet spots that a more well-rounded person might have.”

When asked whether Metz has entered a new phase, Edkins says they have, though it’s more the inevitable result of returning after the extended derailment precipitated by an extended pandemic lockdown. With time comes perspective, however, and they’ve grown into a band with a greater sense of vision and ambition than when they started. What they seek from making music, however, remains simple and humble as ever.

“I think [our goal] was to put out a seven inch or something,” he says. “It started modestly. We’re all obsessives to a point, so while I don’t think we had any grand ambition, I think we were all pretty in love with it. It’s what we were putting all of our energy, outside of work, into. Hayden and I moved cities to continue making music together, so that was commitment from day one, sort of. We knew we were gonna make music together and met another fanatic in Chris and we loved dumping all of our time and energy into this thing just to see what happened. It definitely went a lot farther than we expected.

“As far as the songs and records we make, it’s never been about deep contemplation for me,” he continues. “It’s about a feeling. And hopefully a great feeling.”

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