In an interview published earlier this week on Pitchfork, Alex Edkins of the Toronto band METZ says "there's not a lot of new music that [he] can get excited about." The singer-guitarist had been asked specifically if he thinks "there's a void in 2012 for people who identify with [the] post-hardcore, early-'90s punk scene" once ruled by acts like Fugazi and the Jesus Lizard, and Edkins was responding in the affirmative. "I don't know if they're phoning it in," he went on, "but I do feel like it's really rare that I can get pumped on a band that's doing it for honest reasons."
It's hard to know what to do with Edkins' answer. First, what exactly would it mean for a band to do a certain kind of music for dishonest reasons?
More to the point, though, 2012 has been a good year for fans of post-hardcore punk. Beyond METZ's self-titled debut (which Sup Pop released on Tuesday), recent records by the Men, Ceremony and L.A.-based Off! all take up the form with satisfying precision. "119," by Sacramento's similarly inclined Trash Talk, even arrived in stores the same day as "METZ."
This bounty hasn't gone unreported, either. A headline in SPIN's May/June issue read, "Hardcore Punks Threaten Indie Rock's Hold on the Cutting Edge,"while Sasha Frere-Jones pointed out last month in the New Yorker that "independent bands have inched back toward the musical aggression that was something of a default position for the community in the late '80s and early '90s."
Edkins' misconception, of course, doesn't make "METZ" any less enjoyable. Punk's straightforward presentation hardly precludes a mixed message, and for most of this bracing 10-track album you can't understand what Edkins is going on about anyway. His gruff shout, relatively low in the mix, sounds more designed to complement his corrosive guitar-playing and Hayden Menzies' thunderous drumming rather than the other way around. (Song titles such as "Nausea," "Wasted" and "Negative Space" also communicate what the unintelligible lyrics don't.)
So you could say that METZ, which is scheduled to play the Echo on Nov. 7, offers a purely sonic experience -- a kind of over-amped restaging of "Bleach"-era Nirvana, minus Kurt Cobain's sensitive-scumbag poetry and devotion to pop-ready hooks. The black-and-white album artwork, complete with a back-cover photograph of a dude splayed atop a drum set, further underscores the Nirvana connection.
Except what the band delivers in songs like "Rats" and "Wet Blanket" (which you can hear below) is as close to a physical sensation as it is to a musical one. The sound assaults your ears, as though METZ were attempting to scrub away a layer of long-established grime.
Or something shinier. One possible explanation for the post-hardcore revival -- apologies, Edkins, but that's precisely what's happening here -- is that the music expresses an estrangement from the increasingly slick productions of Top 40 radio. In "Headache," which opens "METZ" with a pummeling drum beat and a scraping two-note guitar riff, these Toronto troublemakers are providing the raw materials for just such an affliction. But maybe they're also battling someone else's noise.