Brett Morgen’s HBO documentary Montage of Heck is a gut-punch for anyone who grew up listening to Nirvana and lived through the eventual suicide of Kurt Cobain. In the film, Cobain’s life is told through his own home videos, journals, and drawings, all conveying the troubled life of a genius that never truly felt accepted by those around him and the world as a whole. As I watched this therapeutic film, I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d ever have another artist come along that has as big of an impact on a generation as Kurt had on Generation X. In a musical landscape that is littered with Justin Beibers and Taylor Swifts, where are those kids who were weaned by Nirvana from birth and why hasn’t that influence resonated in the music of today?
In what could only be a sign from beyond, the latest METZ album, II, arrived in the mail the day after I viewed the documentary. On their sophomore release, this trio of 20-somethings from Calgary, Canada burst from the confines of the recording studio with a frenzied dissonance and unbridled fury that could only come from the womb of Nirvana.
METZ’s first release also had a distinct 90s edge, but the self-titled debut was more indebted to the hardcore styling’s of Jesus Lizard than anything from the realm of grunge. The Jesus Lizard is still the most prominent forebear on II, but the album has its more melodic moments that, in combination with the harsh distortion, calls back to the brilliant blend of punk and pop that Cobain and crew created 25 years ago. There’s a distinction I need to make: this isn’t Nevermind, pop-genius era Nirvana; this is the band in its final incarnation – In Utero (my favorite Nirvana album). On tracks like “Spit You Out,” “Landfill,” and “Wait in Line,” you can almost imagine Steve Albini at the producing helm, Kurt at his angriest and most dissonant, and the band at its most belligerent. At that point, Nirvana had no interest in appeasing the masses, and either is METZ on II.
Alex Adkin’s voice is far from the gravely tenor of Cobain, but II does show Adkins growing as a vocalist. He often sounds more like Johnny Rotten than the David Yow impersonation he put on with their first album. The snotty, abrasive singing gives the album a slightly different edge than the more in your face self-titled debut, although it wouldn’t be difficult to get the two albums confused. On the surface, II seems like a re-tread of what worked on their first effort, but there are small tweaks that give this effort a slightly more disorienting feel. The guitars, while still buried in crunch, are woozier and blurred with psychedelic nausea.
“Spit You Out”:
If there is one big difference between what Nirvana did on In Utero and METZ’s II, it would have to be the lyrics. As Montage of Heck shows, many of the themes evident on Cobain’s last effort reveal his struggles with fame, drug addiction, and depression. On the contrary, METZ’s lyrics are often buried below the chaos, but once you unearth them, there’s little of substantial worth to take with you. “Waiting” bemoans the struggles of waiting in line at the shopping mall, and “I.O.U.” laments the affects of painkillers, a far cry from the downward heroin spiral explored on In Utero.
Then again, METZ is still in its infancy. Cobain did, after all, sing about topics like no recess, being sent to the office, and The Andy Griffith Show on Nirvana’s first album, Bleach. And if METZ never reaches the lyrical genius of Cobain, it might be a blessing. Cobain’s real life anguish influenced those intimate, destructive lyrics, but those same struggles would lead to his demise. We may never have another Nirvana, but thankfully his brilliance lives on today in the music of those, like METZ, still influenced by his music today.