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II John S.W. MacDonald , April 27th, 2015 14:07

Metz have all the telltale signs of an early-90s nostalgia band. They play blistering Touch And Go-indebted punk rock; they've got a frontman who wears glasses and ripped jeans and screams his head off like a young Steve Albini and a drummer who pounds the kit and flails his hair like a young Dave Grohl; they write misanthropic songs about "rats" and "landfills" and "nausea".  

And yet to their massive credit, the Toronto three-piece has managed to be much more than that. Metz are no museum piece or paean to the glory days of 1991. Somehow, despite the time-stamped familiarity of the band's ingredients, the finished product sounds urgent, necessary, even a little dangerous.

The reasons why are frustratingly simple: execution and conviction. Metz play brutally efficient, art-damaged rock & roll that never bobs or weaves when it isn't supposed to. And they do it without blinking. There's nothing knowing about their music – no references to decode or allusions to suss out, no laughs at your expense – just volume and velocity in hardy portions. And grit.

II tweaks the Metz formula just enough to stand as an improvement over the band's excellent 2012 self-titled debut. The touchstones are still Mudhoney, Helmet and The Jesus Lizard, the dissonant guitars still chase their tails over caterwauling drums and distorted bass. But the production is just a touch lighter, the edges more ragged; the record's abrupt dynamic shifts – say when 'Landfill' jumps from Black Sabbath to Drive Like Jehu within the first 20 seconds – sound more like a tour-seasoned band running through the changes than the result of any knob-twisting behind the boards.

Another of II's small improvements: guitarist Alex Edkins' vocals, which have grown even more morose and agitated. He looks quite the everyman with his thick glasses, button-up shirt and brown mop, but he sounds absolutely feral on the new record. Check him on 'Acetate', II's first and best track: "Take away these thoughts!" Edkins plead-screams over a pummeling two-note riff. Or on 'Wait In Line', where you'll find him wailing about atom bombs, ambulances and shopping malls. At least half of what makes Metz such a vital band boils down to the way Edkins' voice cracks when he reaches for those choruses.

The other half is all about the merciless proficiency with which Edkins and his rhythm section (drummer Hayden Menzies and bassist Chris Slorach) wrestle their rabid songs to the ground. And II's looser production gives them a wider mat on which to maneuver before going in for the kill. There are guitar solos, for one – which barely appeared at all on the band's debut, but show up here on 'Spit You Out' and 'Eyes Peeled' in all their strangled glory. And where there aren't solos, Metz draw out their arrangements, worrying over some dissonant interval or offbeat rhythmic idea until they hit on something they like – as they do on 'Acetate''s drone-heavy, Sonic-Youth-inspired bridge.

II's pulse-quickening power retreats a bit during its final third. The record's last tune, the slow-burning 'Kicking A Can Of Worms,' is one of the only Metz songs that uses deafening volume to make up for a lack of ideas.

But the fact remains: Few bands anywhere do this sort of thing this well. The idea of three regular guys in a room banging out songs together is one of the oldest rockist tropes in the book – a bottomless well for tired notions about authenticity and legitimacy and musicianship. But if nothing else, Metz are a solid reminder of just how difficult that work actually is – how hard it is not only to write intense, well-crafted songs, but to communicate that intensity on record and on stage in ways that seem both genuine and somehow effortless. That's certainly something to be nostalgic about.