There are two types of compilation albums. The first of these are the self-evidently shite ones: the rarities compilations that go out of their way to advertise that they aren’t actual, proper albums. They are the musical equivalent of dogs’ homes run for profit: full of unwanted mongrels whose owners didn’t love them enough to give them a proper home on a proper album.
Often these compilations are an excuse for a band to crack open their vaults and monetise every demo, discarded idea or alternative take they ever produced. Sometimes they will have knowingly self-effacing names like ‘45 or 46 Songs That Weren't Good Enough to Go on Our Other Records’ (NOFX), or a horrific pun on the letter ‘B’ like ‘B’Sides Themselves’ (thanks Marillion) or ‘Attack Of The Killer B’s’) (fuck off Anthrax). Usually they’ll be named ‘B-Sides & Rarities’ by some dead-eyed label executive utterly devoid of imagination whose one goal in life is to wring out the last measly dollar from those pitiful completist addicts who call themselves fans.
The second kind are the ones that sidestep all this nonsense by just pretending to be proper albums. ‘Hatful of Hollow’, ‘Sawdust’, ‘Incesticide’, the record that you assume are regular release until you either have the sense to check its Wikipedia page or some twat on a forum fan-shames you for declaring it to be your favourite.
‘Automat’, the new rarities collection from Canadian noise punks METZ, belongs comfortably to the latter category. Rather than just being a placeholder meant to maintain interest while fans await a follow-up to 2017’s ‘Strange Peace’, it feels like a fully curated record: it has singles, it has flow, it has music videos, it has cool artwork, the band are touring it, etc etc.
The first four songs here are worth the price of entry alone. The album runs chronologically, so while a fair few of the later tracks were released globally and can be found on streaming services, the opening salvo of ‘Soft Whiteout’, ‘Lump Sums’ ‘Dry Up’ and ‘Ripped On The Fence’ should be unknown to all but a few longstanding fans and a host of people who lie.
Released in 2009 on Toronto indie label We Are Busy Bodies, before the trio had even been together a year, these songs are a snapshot of a band who evidently emerged fully formed and furious. As ‘Lump Sums’ grinds into gear you can hear guitarist Alex Edkins yelling “That’s a badass sound” over to bassist Chris Slorach, which pretty sums up the METZ ethos that endures to this day: find the coolest sound possible, then play it really, really loud. Every METZ record is basically Pornhub for pedalphiles, and this is no exception.
Though the production of these tracks is a little muggy compared to the clear, Steve Albini-produced ‘Strange Peace’, this just adds a raw and ragged edge to a raw and ragged band. ‘Ripped On The Fence’ is the real standout here, a sprawling opus that rides to strange places on an angular, stop- start riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on At The Drive In’s ‘Relationship Of Command’.
The middle third of the album is made up of the woozily psychedelic ‘Automat’ (their final pre-Sub Pop offering) sandwiched between a pair of inessential, alternate takes of tracks from their debut record, seemingly included to pad things out. These are followed by a largely brilliant run of non- album singles that they released between 2012 and 2016: ‘Dirty Shirt’, ‘Can’t Understand’ and ‘Eraser’, plus each of their respective B-sides. Of these six tracks it’s the stunning ‘Pure Auto’ that really stands out, its jagged riff propelling it along at 10,000mph to earn it its spot as the album’s lead single.
It seems that the band’s enduring love for this track, along with the realisation that their early singles were being flogged online for $60 a pop, gave the band the idea of putting together this compilation in the first place. It’s a worthy project, one that demonstrates to the listener just how much METZ crushed from day one before reminding them that they haven’t stopped crushing it since.
Words: Josh Gray
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