Watching Metz crash, bang, wallop their way through atonal white noise freakouts on the stage at London’s cavernous 9,000 capacity Alexandra Palace in December was surreal and thrilling in equal measure. The Ottawa trio’s invitation to The People’s Palace came courtesy of headliners Idles – currently the UK’s favourite righteously raging post-punks, but who themselves were, just four years earlier, the eager, excitable local opening act when Metz headlined The Fleece in Bristol while touring their cunningly-titled second album II. Life can be gloriously absurd sometimes.
Indeed, that’s part of the reason why Metz do what they do, channelling the essence of the most ferocious bands on the Touch & Go/Amphetamine Reptile/Dischord rosters circa 1992 into corrosive but beautifully cathartic head-caving noise-rock. It’s assuredly an acquired taste, which made their debut bow in one of London’s most storied and capacious venues all the more joyously incongruous. And yet, and yet… there are enough transcendent moments on Atlas Vending to suggest that idly imagining Metz headlining the world’s grandest concert halls on their own merits doesn’t seem like a wholly hysterical flight of fancy.
Amid the relentlessly jolting chaos of 2020 it would be easy to view Atlas Vending as An Album For Our Dystopian Times, but, truthfully, vocalist/guitarist Alex Edkins’ meditations on anxiety, isolation, paranoia, claustrophobia and those insistent urges to torch every grounding impulse, embrace oblivion and surrender oneself to capricious fate have been staple Sub Pop tropes since Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman corralled Metz’s spiritual forefathers Scratch Acid, Naked Raygun and Steve Albini for their label’s launch pad compilation Sub Pop 100.
When Edkins sings 'Give me something to believe in' as the opening line on The Mirror, or 'Can’t seem to find a way to get free, to get through…' on recent single Blind Youth Industrial Park, his frustration and desperation has a resonance and relevance that transcends the debilitating clusterfuck in which we’re all currently mired. It makes Atlas Vending a perversely comforting listen for anyone who’s ever sought solace in fierce, distorted and cacophonous outsider art.
Opener Pulse is as insistent and unforgiving as Shellac at their most gleefully monotonal, Hail Taxi could be Fugazi circa the unreleased Albini sessions for In On The Kill Taker, with Edkins giving it his best yearning Guy Picciotto vocal and drummer Hayden Menzies’ martial barrage echoing the introduction to the DC post-hardcore legends’ Rend It. But it’s A Boat To Drown In, the album’s triumphant exit music, which truly finds Metz at their most compelling, 7 minutes and 38 seconds of undulating, explorative My Bloody Valentine-meets-A Place To Bury Strangers gaze-noir which untethers the listener from past mistakes and regrets and resets the controls for a new day rising.
It’s visceral proof that Metz’s own journey is still full of possibility.
Atlas Vending is available now via Sub Pop (opens in new tab)