At the time of writing, II – the imaginatively-titled second album from Ottowa’s Metz – has been out for two years, four months and eight days. It’s well and truly an artefact of the past. Its tour cycle is complete. It’s history. Even so, one still gets this lingering feeling that somehow, somewhere, perhaps in a basement in the south-east of Canada, there’s a guitar still feeding back and droning against an amp from a session for that record.
Such was II‘s power. Not only did it score Metz a Polaris Prize nomination, it also boosted their international profile and cemented them as one of the most menacing, ferocious rock bands currently stomping on pedals. After finishing the touring commitments for that album, it was time for Metz to start again – and, as The Smiths so helpfully pointed out all those years ago, barbarism really does begin at home.
“I was posted up at home, just doing a lot of writing and demoing in my spare bedroom,” says Alex Edkins, the band’s lead vocalist, lyricist and guitarist. “We all went our separate ways at the end of touring the last record and had some time to ourselves, so by the time we reconvened we were all really excited to start banging it out again. We were ready to try out anything – there was a lot of workshopping to see how things would fit with the three of us. All we knew going into making this record was that we had no interest in making the same thing again. We were in a really good headspace.”
I can hear myself working things out in my head when I listen back to the record.
The end result is Strange Peace, Metz’s third LP. While still holding onto the structural and sonic elements that ostensibly comprise the band’s DNA, it’s worth pointing out that fans shouldn’t go in expecting, ahem, II part II. As Edkins points out, Strange Peace is an album grounded in the trio’s desire to develop something stronger, smarter and sharper.
“It went in a lot of different directions for us,” he says of writing the record. “It wasn’t something we openly discussed, but any time that things would take a really different turn in terms of the songs we were working on inevitably turned out to be the ones we were the most excited about. A lot of what we were doing on this record was new for us. At the heart of it, you can still tell that it’s the same band; but it’s the sound of us really stretching out.
“More and more, I’m starting to realise what it is that music means to me,” he continues. “I honestly think, in a lot of ways, it’s medicine. It’s a way to work out the heavy shit. This is no different for this record, although I don’t think that I really understood that until it was done. I can hear myself working things out in my head when I listen back to the record. I can see it all unfurling as it was all documented.”
Strange Peace was recorded at Electrical Audio studios in Chicago. If the name isn’t immediately familiar, perhaps that of its owner – and Strange Peace‘s engineer – might be: Steve Albini; the legendary guitarist and recording engineer behind albums by Nirvana, the Pixies and literally thousands more. According to Edkins, enlisting the veteran Albini to work with them was as simple as putting two and two together. “We were in LA, and I was listening to a lot of Scout Niblett’s records,” he explains. “I really got into her stuff. When we were driving to the airport awhile later, this Mclusky song came on the radio. We immediately thought, ‘Well, fuck – there’s the drum sound that we’ve been picturing for these new songs.’ It happened to be Steve who was behind both. We decided to reach out to see if he was interested in making the record with us, and within a day we’d had it confirmed.”
Albini knows his gear and his room so well that it’s really, really easy to get going.
Having worked on countless records that were influential on Metz itself, Albini quickly set to work on Strange Peace, and had the band recording the songs live, something they had never done on previous releases. “We hadn’t even considered it before we started working with Steve,” says Edkins. “It’s just the way that he works – he’s all about capturing the essence of the band.” Edkins goes on to praise Albini’s hands-off approach, saying that it was having the band in its element that brought out the best on either side of the mixing desk. “He drove us to be so efficient,” says Edkins.
“That’s the only thing when it comes to Steve: you have to know your songs, you have to get them together and you’ve gotta come in and play them. That’s that. He knows his gear and his room so well that it’s really, really easy to get going. Within our first few hours of being there, we had actually done takes of songs that ended up on the album itself. We’d never had any kind of experience where it came together that quickly. At first, it was kind of intimidating; but Steve really made us feel welcome. Whatever reputation he may have as some sort of hardass, we didn’t see it. He was affable, hilarious and super-dedicated to what we wanted to accomplish.”
Strange Peace is out September 22 through Inertia.