METZ 2024
Photo: Vanessa Heins / Sub Pop Records

METZ Embrace Melody ‘Up on Gravity Hill’

Canadian noise punks go widescreen on their latest to thrilling effect. METZ embrace melody but still bring the noise Up on Gravity Hill.

Up on Gravity Hill
Sub Pop
12 April 2024

After a decade of relentless, pummeling noise punk reminiscent of the Jesus Lizard and bands from the late, great Amphetamine Reptile label, METZ deliver their most accessible work yet on Up on Gravity Hill. Even when the guitars pummel as they have on earlier signature tracks like “Sad Pricks” from their debut or “Mess of Wires” from Strange Peace, they don’t stay there, swirling into sounds that are downright cinematic at times. This is widescreen METZ, an unexpected gearshift from one of heavy indie’s most reliable bands, and a triumph.

Up on Gravity Hill opens with the massive, six-minute “No Reservation/Love Comes Crashing”, which starts off with a classic METZ mix of shouts and noise but builds to a pretty chorus and finally to an exhilarating finish. It also features violin from Owen Pallett. Not only is this one of the band’s very best songs, it sets the tone for the remaining seven tracks’ risks and rewards. Engineer Seth Manchester, who has worked with Mdou Moctar, Battles, and the Body, dials back the in-your-face production in favor of a looser-sounding record that sacrifices none of METZ’s power.

Lead singer Alex Edkins is also a film and television scorer, and he has channeled his poppier impulses into side project Weird Nightmare, too, but this is the clearest Edkins’ other work has bled into METZ. Lyrically, this is the most open-hearted and, dare I say, vulnerable Edkins has been, but that doesn’t mean the songs have taken a turn for sunshine and rainbows. If anything, he sounds desperate and mournful on many of the tracks but not hopeless. The music lifts these songs that are raw and honest about loss and the passage of time. Heart-on-sleeve is a good look for him.

The rhythm section of Hayden Menzies and Chris Slorach has never sounded better. Where the emphasis on earlier records was locked-in precision, here they complement each other. In the four years since their last album, Atlas Vending, they have all worked on other projects, and if anything, it seems to have made them sync even more.

“Glass Eye” is a METZ love song, which is to say it is filled with desperate proclamations like “I’ll be the scapegoat you can blame.” “Entwined (Street Light Buzz)” plays with a quiet/loud dynamic that is a distant cousin to the anthemic punk of the late, lamented Constantines. That comparison is also apt on the catchy “Wound Tight.” The lines “We want the moon and the stars / We get the smoke and the mirrors” even sound like they could have come out of Bry Webb’s mouth. “Superior Mirage” laments a lost friend with Swervedriver-like fuzz.

“99” adds piano to an anti-consumerist screed that builds from an agitated, scratchy post-punk guitar to a pretty, layered chorus and a massive groove. If this sounds too busy, it isn’t. It is one of the most ambitious swings on the record, and it quickly becomes a favorite after a couple of listens. Amber Webber of Black Mountain turns up for guest vocals on closer “Light Your Way Home”, which blends late-period Hüsker Dü and shoegaze into a powerful look at how being away from home strains relationships with loved ones. This has been a particularly strong year for heavy, guitar-forward music, and Up on Gravity Hill is sure to turn up again on some end-of-the-year lists. 

RATING 8 / 10