In an era of self-recording and instant Internet gratification, the Toronto-based punk rock trio METZ took five years to put together its full-length album. When it was finished, the band's self-titled debut was snatched up by Sub Pop, a label whose interest in bands as aggressive as METZ has seemed to taper off since the 1990s. And in another surprise, "METZ" was hosted as an exclusive stream on the website of The New Yorker — not usually thought of as a venue for raw, aggressive music.
But simply listening to the band (cranked volume recommended) will likely knock any analysis out of your head. METZ hits hard, uncouth but focused; not so much unhinged as hinged to a house that's being methodically demolished. The band has also gotten attention for its raucous live show, which comes to the Middle East Upstairs on Wednesday supported by Massachusetts groups Pile and Speedy Ortiz.
Guitarist/vocalist Alex Edkins and drummer Hayden Menzies started METZ in Ottawa in 2007. After making the rounds in that city's basement scene, they were looking to change things up by moving to a new town. They chose Toronto — in part because Edkins's now-fiancee was moving there — and met bassist Chris Slorach.
Now in the middle of a US tour, Edkins describes the origins of METZ's sound over the phone while on his way to a show in Pittsburgh.
"We love well-crafted pop music, well put-together, thought-out music, and we wanted that aspect. But we grew up going to punk rock shows, experiencing that first-hand thing where a band moved you physically. You get that surge of energy," he says. "We write all of our songs with the idea that they should translate live in a certain way."
The band found the best way to craft songs for a live setting was to write collaboratively.
"At the beginning, we'd do more writing at home [individually], and what sounds really good at home didn't seem to have that certain something that we wanted. It just kind of happens that when the three of us are in the room and everything's cranked up loud, that's when you know if something is working or not. That's the litmus test," says Edkins. "It's a certain amount of cohesion when you're on the spot, when you're bouncing off each other. There's this immediacy, you get this energetic, kind of frantic thing."
That energy comes through on "METZ," a 10-song beating that runs about half an hour. From straightforward punk jabs like "Get Off" to stomping, bipolar tracks like "The Mule," there's never any doubt the fellas are sweating. Edkins's vocals range from a sneer to guttural yell — sometimes, as shown off throughout "Rats," in one song.
As for the time it took them to finish the LP, Edkins says it was due mostly to necessity.
"We were just living our whole lives working 9 to 5, and could only do the band evenings and weekends," he says. "It wasn't any strategic thing."
Before "METZ," which went on sale in October, the band did record three 7-inch singles between 2008 and 2010. Edkins told Pitchfork last month that those recordings "sound like a band finding its footing."
With the last of the three, they determined the approach that they'd take on the album. The disc's A-side, "Negative Space," is a manic, disorienting attack, while the B-side, "Automat," had the band trying out droning vocals, a steadier rhythm, and assorted effects.
"That's when we realized we've been going this way, where we're naturally stripping everything back and getting down to the three instruments," says Edkins over the phone. "The flip side ['Automat'] is far more psychedelic and convoluted. We ended up going the 'Negative Space' direction." "Negative Space" even ended up on the full-length.
Edkins says he's been surprised by the attention METZ has received, particularly the idea that they're part of a new trend of aggressive punk music.
"Personally, we've been playing this kind of music most of our lives. . . . It's always been around. It might be new that people are starting to take notice, but if you were interested you could find it," says Edkins. "I find it amusing that people think we're coming out of left field."
He does admit, though, that they noticed their sound helped them make a name for themselves in Toronto.
"We've always stuck out completely in Toronto. The music was very different than what we were doing, and it still is," he says. "What we're doing is our own thing, and we've taken a little bit of pride in it."