Atlas Vending by METZRelease date: October 9, 2020
Label: Sub Pop
With their 2012 self-titled debut album and its 2015 follow-up, II, Toronto trio METZ developed and established a status as Canada’s best noise punk band. I was a little underwhelmed by their third full-length, Negative Space (2017), as it felt slightly like the band were treading water, writing similar-sounding songs to those on their first two albums, but without the impact and verve of their earlier material. I’m pleased to report that their new, fourth full-length album, Atlas Vending, represents a marked improvement upon its predecessor.
‘Pulse’ makes for a slightly restrained opener, before ‘Blind Youth Industrial Park’ and ‘The Mirror’ pick up the pace. Frontman Alex Edkins has really expanded his vocal range for this album, channelling the influences of Swans’ Michael Gira on ‘Pulse’ and Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto on ‘Hail Taxi’. Uniform’s Ben Greenberg does a great job on production duties, capturing a similarly frenetic pacing to Edkins’ guitars to that which he did on the last Bad Breeding album. The way in which the squall of the guitars during the choruses of ‘Draw Us In’ is offset by reverb effects during the song’s verses is particularly interesting and innovative.
The press release announcing Atlas Vending leads the listener to expect it to demonstrate a slightly softer, slower dimension to METZ’s sound, but fans of the tight, lean, and loud punk songs that typified their first album won’t be disappointed; ‘No Ceiling’, ‘Parasite’, and ‘Sugar Pill’ are as fast and furious as anything they’ve done to date. ‘Framed by the Comet’s Tail’ is replete with the sort of slow build-ups of tension followed by visceral releases of energy that typify METZ’s live shows.
However, the effectiveness of all this pales in comparison to the powerful, emotional gut-punch of the album’s finale, ‘A Boat to Drown In’. At 7 minutes and 37 seconds, it’s the band’s longest song to date, and necessarily so. There are points during its mesmeric, instrumental second half where it feels like it’s never going to end, but you also don’t want it to stop. The lyrical theme of a desperate escape from bleak circumstances makes it the ideal point at which to close the album and possibly has additional resonances within the context of 2020 to those which the band intended when they wrote it. The song was very affecting as a single (and its excellent video helped in this respect no end), but as the epic climax of a 40-odd minute musical journey, it is infinitely more so.
Ultimately, Atlas Vending is a musical triumph for METZ. It sees them flirting with new musical stylings and innovations but doing so as a natural evolution from their existing sound, rather than for the sake of it, as their contemporaries Iceage have done, with far less enjoyable results. Edkins and his bandmates Chris Slorach and Hayden Menzies have pulled off the difficult trick of recording songs that break new ground for them as a band whilst also maintaining the core sonic elements of what attracted listeners to them in the first place. Following the standstill of the sometimes-repetitious Negative Space, this is a band who are now firmly moving forward whilst keeping one eye on the past. Atlas Vending proves that METZ still have plenty of musical tricks left up their sleeves.