9:28 AM EDT, May 10, 2013
A few weeks ago, the Toronto trio Metz was played a midafternoon gig at the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, with such fury that the welt-inducing performance left me questioning the band members’ physical well-being and sanity. Alex Edkins was wrestling his guitar to the ground like it was a writhing alligator. Chris Slorach was pogoing while screwing his bass guitar into an amplifier. Drummer Hayden Menzies was pounding so hard it sounded like he was banging on industrial oil drums instead of a trap kit. They carried on like this for 10-plus minutes as they torched a song called “Wet Blanket.” How the heck do they play this passionately every night while on tour?
"It has to do with the songs we write; they require a certain energy for them to sound right," Edkins says. "You kind of blank out when you're up there, and when you wake up you're covered in sweat and the equipment's broken.
"And then you walk off. It's an unconscious thing. You turn it on and go for it."
The singer-guitarist acknowledges that "it can be rough on your body. After the shows I need a good half-hour, 40 minutes to catch my breath. I need to fall over and have some alone time.
"But so far," he adds cheerfully, "it's not killing us. All of us have been playing high-intensity music for a big chunk of our lives, so it's not as daunting as it might be for some other people."
Edkins and Menzies met when they were teenagers in the '90s as part of the all-ages scene in Ottawa, where they grew up. They were regulars at Galerie SAW Gallery, which booked a steady stream of fringe bands from the punk, hardcore and avant-garde scenes.
"It totally blew our minds going to those shows," Edkins says. "Hayden saw Drive Like Jehu early on, and his first band got to play with Fugazi. We saw these bands destroying community centers and art galleries. It was so otherworldly, and it made us want to try to bring the same energy to our shows: The people going crazy, the bands going crazy. Total mayhem."
Edkins and Menzies formed Metz in Ottawa before moving to Toronto a few years ago, where they enlisted Slorach.
"The sound was more groove-oriented at first, but we started honing it: We didn't want convoluted, drawn-out music. We want to blast it out, keep it concise, cut away all the fat," he says.
His guitar playing evolved from classic Black Sabbath riffing to more twisted riffs, influenced by Jawbox's J. Robbins, among other post-hardcore heroes.
"Now, Chris and I look to play notes that will clash, and then bend them into one another to harmonize, then back into dissonance," Edkins says. "I was joking yesterday that I have a hard time playing power chords now because I'm so used to playing the chords that we make up on our own. The most simple thing a guitar player learns first is now the hardest thing for me to do. Weird homemade chords are now more comfortable for me to play."
At a time when a lot of indie rock is being defined by more pastoral or orchestrated sounds, Metz plays it nasty and violent.
"We don't ever think we're filling a gap," Edkins says. "If you look for the kind of music we play, you'll find it. That music is out there. But there isn't a surplus. We definitely love it. It's taking more of the weird or avant-garde side of music and mixing it with hardcore. That's the sound of (defunct indie labels such as) Touch and Go and Amphetamine Reptile; that to me is the pinnacle of punk rock, combining those two worlds."
On Metz's self-titled debut album last year for Sub Pop Records, the trio merges aggression and artiness. The band's pile-driving ferocity is very much in evidence, but a certain finesse and subtle textural detail also makes the album something more than just a live-in-the-studio recording.
"We wanted to make a record and not shy away from it being 'produced,'" Edkins says of the weeklong recording session in Canada. "We wanted it heavy, loud and energetic, but we also love spending time in the studio, experimenting with sounds. Our live show is one thing, and, moving forward, our records will be another."
It's an abrasive record by design, as telegraphed by the song titles: "Headache," "Nausea," "Wasted," "Negative Space."
"I often let the music dictate not only the titles but also the content," Edkins says. "If it seems negative, it's not because I'm a tortured soul, but because I'm vibing off the music."
And that vibe gets blown out on the road, more cathartic than debilitating. Metz played more than 170 shows last year, traveling in a van that Menzies acquired in 2001 and now has more than 343,000 miles on it.
"Hayden bought the van when he was really young, figuring he was going to be doing this for a while," Edkins says with a laugh. "I'd say he's gotten pretty good use out of it."
Greg Kot co-hosts "Sound Opinions" at 8 p.m. Fridays and 11 a.m. Saturdays on WBEZ-FM 91.5.
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When: 9 p.m. Sunday
Where: Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave.
Tickets: $15; lincolnhallchicago.com
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