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Never Standing Still: Metz talk 'Up on Gravity Hill'

Wednesday, 10 April 2024 Written by Tom Morgan

Photo: Vanessa Heins

There’s no hard and fast rule on how musicians should progress, because history has shown it to be a minefield. Those who push forward might alienate existing fans, but those who opt to shelter-in-place draw criticism for stagnating. Sometimes, though, the inverse happens. Playing to your strengths is regarded as just that, a strength, while creative evolution is hailed as vital risk-taking and reward for ambition. 

More than a decade on from the release of their grinding self-titled debut, Metz have consistently pulled off the latter.The Toronto trio are about to release their fifth studio album ‘Up On Gravity Hill’, continuing a recent trajectory of imbuing their exhilarating, industrial-textured noise-rock with off-kilter melodies and surprising emotional heft.

“I think we’ve been a slow burn; never changing for the sake of it but also never standing still,” guitarist-vocalist Alex Edkins says, keenly aware of his band’s arc. “A lot has changed, but gradually,” he continues. “It doesn’t feel jarring to us, I don’t know about the listener.”

Metz fans, broadly speaking, have noticed and embraced their development. Following a two record blast of abrasive punk, 2017’s ‘Strange Peace’ incorporated new textural layers, while 2020’s ‘Atlas Vending’ traded in myriad warped hooks, highlighted by its knockout closing anthem A Boat To Drown In.

“A creeping sense of melody is starting to show its ugly head, in comparison to our first couple of records,” Alex clarifies. “The songs breathe more and the record has a more twisting and turning feel instead of being a 30-minute blast of noise.”

‘Up On Gravity Hill’ is certainly Metz’s most varied and intentionally modulated album. This newfound willingness to “let the songs breathe” is highlighted by closing track Light Your Way Home – a slowcore dirge of murky textures and melancholy lyrics that feels wholly unique within Metz’s back catalogue.

About this track, Alex explains: “During the pandemic I did a solo record that explored some more pop songwriting. I had Light Your Way Home mapped out and demoed but didn’t know if it was even going to be a Metz song. Then I brought it to the guys and I was surprised by how much they liked it.”

The song also exemplifies another experimental quirk that sets ‘Up On Gravity Hill’ apart in Metz’s catalogue by calling on the spectral vocals of Black Mountain’s Amber Webber, with guest contributions welcome for the first time. Elsewhere, composer Owen Pallett adds subtle strings to opener No Reservation/Love Comes Crashing.

Alex explains that Metz didn’t deliberately set out to use features. Instead, they found their way onto these tracks organically. He is, however, full of appreciation for the duo featured on ‘Up On Gravity Hill’. “Amber’s vocals are one of my favourite things about Black Mountain,” he says. “Then Owen’s just a local legend on the Toronto scene, so it was a no-brainer to reach out to him.” 

Metz’s back catalogue is essentially flawless, but there’s an argument to be made that this  is their finest release. Its eight songs are as noise-laden and intense as anything they’ve done before, but also bend into thrilling new shapes. It’s a sign of a band in the midst of a growth spurt. Alex has an explanation for that, too.

“We’re just in a different headspace,” he explains. “I honestly think the pandemic threw us for a loop. It gave us a new appreciation for making music and playing shows. It was unspoken, but it felt like a new chapter. All bets were off.”

This maturity bleeds through into Alex’s lyrics. By noise-rock standards, he’s not particularly cynical or scathing, being more concerned with expressionist images of alienation and industrial decay. ‘Up On Gravity Hill’ is different.

Numerous tracks, from Light Your Way Home to Never Still Again to Superior Mirage broach soulful themes such as longing and homesickness.“They’re about this feeling of doing this thing you want to do but that thing tears you away from the people you’re supposed to be with,” Alex clarifies. “I feel guilty every time I leave for a tour and it’s all over these songs.”

Being separated from your loved ones is a human concern. That said, Alex is keen to stress a hope that his exploration of it doesn't come across as “privileged”. “But I am being honest,” he adds. “It’s probably the biggest stress in my life.”

‘Up On Gravity Hill’ is an introspective album, contrasting with Metz’s previously outward-facing lyrical perspectives. “We’ve certainly met our quota of frustrated songs kicking back at everything,” Alex laughs. “I feel like that stuff doesn’t quite do it for me anymore, though there is still a place for it. Maybe I’ll return to it, everything’s not exactly peachy.”

There’s one notable outlier. 99 is a tense rager that attacks corporate greed and the ever-increasing speed of modern consumption. “I take my kid to school and there’s just advertising everywhere,” Alex sighs. “I have to explain to him ‘they just want your money’. From birth it’s rammed down our throats: buy buy buy.”

Metz offer a rebuttal to capitalism’s rapidly-accelerating growth drive. While we are being constantly asked to present ourselves as clearly-defined products, they are developing according to their own logic, moving ahead in their own time and morphing unpredictably. To Alex that speaks to the fact that they’re a punk band, through and through.

“It couldn’t even be twisted if you’ve seen us play live,” he says. “To me, punk means not doing the things you’re expected to do. We’ve grown as people and our music has changed, but that’s our common ground, it always will be.”

Metz’s ‘Up On Gravity Hill’ is out April 12 on Sub Pop.

Metz Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Mon November 25 2024 - BIRMINGHAM Hare And Hounds
Tue November 26 2024 - LEEDS Brudenell Social Club
Wed November 27 2024 - BIRKENHEAD Future Yard
Thu November 28 2024 - BRISTOL Strange Brew
Fri November 29 2024 - LONDON Village Underground

Compare & Buy Metz Tickets at Stereoboard.com.


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