Toronto noise trio Metz drops debut while international press goes wild

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TORONTO - Over the past three years, Metz's myth-making reputation for furiously unhinged live shows led to a record deal with influential indie Sub Pop and a level of international buzz so heightened it resembles the sound bleeding through one of their battered amps.

Of course, it's also led to some misconceptions. As press around the world has enthusiastically keyed in on the Toronto noise-rock trio, some have been surprised that the band — so manic on stage — is so mannered in person.

"There was an interview recently where I think they were expecting a lot more attitude from us," laughed bassist Chris Slorach in a recent interview at Toronto's Trinity Bellwoods Park.

"It was the British press and they were saying that we had 'hearts of gold,'" confirmed frontman Alex Edkins, whose interview with NME led the mag to label Metz "the new nicest guys in rock."

"We're happy-go-lucky guys. I think it would be very strange if people thought that we do onstage is our actual personalities. It's music, hello!

"When we're on stage, I do feel that I kind of turn off, and you wake up, and the show's over. There's not a lot of thinking going on. It's pretty —

"Primal?" interjects Slorach. "We bring Caveman Alex out."

"Sure, you can say that," replies Edkins with a laugh. "But then as soon as it's over, you're back."

It almost seems as if the trio is a little amused by the rightful hype being lavished on their self-titled debut, hitting stores Tuesday.

And that might be because the members of Metz are a little more seasoned than your typical music press-approved flavour of the month.

Edkins is 31, while Slorach and drummer Hayden Menzies are 33. With credits including Moneen and Three Penny Opera, all three have spent the majority of their adult lives playing in rock bands, and all three were sustained by unrelated careers before Metz started collecting momentum (Edkins works in film, Menzies paints and Slorach is a promoter and entrepreneur).

"I think we're able to appreciate it more now because we've been through the ringer, sort of," Edkins said.

"And the reason we're still doing it is it's something we love and it's something we need to do to feel good."

Still, the unassuming members of the band seem to regard their recent run of press triumphs with a sort of detached daze.

It's probably understandable. Before any reviews were even issued, the New Yorker called the band "rude, severe and excellent," the Guardian hailed them "one of the more impressive rock bands we've heard of late" while NME has been particularly effusive, praising the group's "ferociously anthemic" debut as "a blistering shoutalong future-punk classic" — in separate articles, no less.

It's validating stuff, not just because the trio slogged in their time in less-heralded acts, but also because they assembled their record with uncommon patience. They recorded these songs, they re-recorded them. They refused to rush, even under the constant pressure of friends and fans mesmerized by their live act, who thought the band needed no production frills to capture their blistering stage assault.

"People were like, 'Why don't you just put a microphone in a room and hit record? That's all you guys need to do!'" recalled Slorach. "We tried that. It didn't work.

"So we went back and actually put some time into it and made the record we really, really wanted to make all this time."

Which is perhaps why critics are so keen on the bruising disc.

With a debt to '80s and '90s stalwarts of scum-steeped noise rock (bands from the Touch & Go roster like the Jesus Lizard and Shellac, plus a dash of early Nirvana and the angular post-hardcore of Fugazi), Metz has no problem kicking up an abrasive storm in which jagged shards of guitar are pounded into the skin of an unfailingly authoritative rhythm section.

But the band wasn't interested in using that considerable racket to obscure substandard songwriting, so they kept tweaking their songs until there was a persistent tunefulness running under the din.

And while Edkins admits that his lyrics used to be an "afterthought" — understandable given how his hoarse vocals are only occasionally intelligible — he considered his words more carefully this time, penning lyrics about the overwhelming pressures of living in a fast-paced, modern city.

"I can't really write a love song over these songs," Edkins said with a laugh. "So they have to be more like songs of paranoia, or songs of pressure weighing on you. That comes from the music, I think."

And some would say that there's more pressure weighing on the band now that there's real expectations from the pre-release press frenzy.

At least for now, the trio seems unencumbered. It wasn't long ago that the band members questioned whether they would ever make a living making music.

"There was a time when I was like: 'Yeah, I don't know if I want to sleep on people's floors and tour endlessly," Menzies said. "I didn't know if I wanted to do that."

Added Edkins: "It's been a gradual incline and now it seems like it's starting to really get a lot of attention. And we couldn't be happier. But it was never really our intent. Our intent was to live our lives. We're pretty happy guys, and (we would) just do this on weeknights, go play shows on weekends.

"But now it's our main focus. We've put everything else in the backseat for now, which is something we never expected but it's exciting."

So the trio doesn't seem to have concrete expectations.

Until recently, Metz was powered by a hobbyist's enthusiasm. It was an outlet, a labour of love. It wasn't anyone's business plan.

And that's still the case.

"I mean, give me a break — what kind of right-minded person, if they're trying to make it, would make that album?" said a grinning Edkins.

"That's absurd, right? We obviously weren't trying to 'make it.' I mean, listen to (the album). You'll know that was just us doing it for the pure love of it.

"If we wanted to hit the charts, that's not what I would make. At all."

Organizations: Sub Pop, British press, New Yorker Jesus Lizard

Geographic location: Toronto, Trinity Bellwoods Park

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