There are few more appropriate band/producer pairings in recent memory than that of post-hardcore trio Metz and legendary musician/producer Steve Albini on "Strange Peace," the Toronto band's new studio album. Their thundering wall of abrasive, in-your-face noise rock seems all but tailor-made for the brutally severe aural affinities of Albini (who, among other things, is infamously responsible for engineering the raw, open-heart grunge surgery sounds of Nirvana’s “In Utero” album).
“I was kind of sold on his bare-bones approach," Metz guitarist/vocalist Alex Edkins told me over the phone recently, when I asked him about working with Albini. "It makes a lot of sense. The product is a little bit more raw, a little bit more free as opposed to doing tons of takes and fixing this and that. We’ve recorded in all kinds of different ways so this was new and I liked the end product."
“He’s all about business,” Edkins continued. “He’s just like ‘Let’s get down to it and make a record,’ and that suited us perfectly because we’re pretty much the same way. And his way of working doesn’t allow you to waste time. It’s fast, straight to tape, live, and that was the first time we had really tried to do that wholeheartedly … I remember the first day, he sort of walked in and stood in front of Hayden [Menzies, drummer] and said, ‘Play some drums.’ So Hayden played some drums, and he goes ‘That’ll work.’ And then said to me, ‘Play some guitar,’ stood in front of the amp, and said ‘That’ll work.’ And did the same with [Chris Slorach’s] bass and there you go -- we started recording. It was so simple and I think it kind of changed my mind on a lot of ways I used to think about recording.”
Besides Albini’s own bands (Big Black, Rapeman, Flour, Shellac) and expansive body of production work (in 2004, he had estimated he’d worked on more than 1,500 records including those by Pixies, the Breeders, Mogwai, PJ Harvey, Bush, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Helmet, etc.), he’s also known for being unapologetically critical -- which the band was well aware of before heading into his Electrical Audio studio in Chicago.
“We didn’t know what to expect because, you know, he’s sort of larger than life at this point,” Edkins said. “But it was easy. It was fun and easy. And I don’t know if that’s what we expected, to be honest. Looking back, it was a really cool experience. And obviously, that’s a guy we have a lot of respect for. Meeting someone like that and working with them, and them not being a letdown, him not being an asshole, was a great thing." [laughs]
“Strange Peace” (purchase it here) is simply put, one of the year's best, and brashest, albums. Like a cement cinderblock crashing through your stereo, the trio pumps out a near-industrial smack of distorted, clanging chainsaw guitars; meaty, propulsive rhythms; and Edkins’ throat-shredding vocals. And to think, it all kind of came together by chance.
“It was like a last-minute decision,” Edkins said about reaching out to Albini. “I think we were in LA catching a flight or something and we’re in the rental van and my iPod came on and played a Mclusky song that Albini had recorded -- I think it was off the second Mclusky record -- and we all kind of looked at each other and I thought, ‘That’s the drum sound for this record. It would really fit the songs.’ I think Chris just got on the phone that minute and phoned him in Chicago cuz we knew a couple people who work with Steve and asked them ‘Do you think he’d wanna do a record with us?’ And they said ‘Yep! We’ll get back to you.’ Within 24 hours, we were like ‘OK, we’re gonna go record there.’ And that’s totally how it happened.”
Turns out, Metz are the kings of serendipity. Take last year’s 7-inch (“Let It Rust” / “Caught Up”) the band made with none other than San Diego rock & roll legend "Swami" John Reis, for example.
“Oh yea, again, that was just one of those things that just happened, too,” Edkins said laughing. “I loved how it went down. It was like: We were playing the Casbah, and John shows up like a caricature of himself with a cigar and tequila and a Hawaiian shirt or something, like it was absolutely crazy. [laughs] He goes ‘I love your band, we should record!’ My memory of it was that he then goes, ‘I’ve got a studio booked in two days,’ so we backtracked up the coast to record that quick and it was awesome. He’s just one of those guys that we have so much love and respect for. And to do something with him was awesome.”
With Reis’ Hot Snakes experiencing a renaissance of sorts these days -- the band just completed a short reunion tour, have a new album on the way and recently signed to Metz’s label, Sub Pop -- does Edkins think there'll be plans for the two bands to join forces on a match-made-in-post-hardcore-heaven tour?
“I would be pissed off if there wasn’t.”