Album review: Metric reinvent themselves yet again as they reflect on their legacy in 'Art of Doubt'
On their seventh studio album, the Canadian indie powerhouse showcases the best of all the various sonic styles they've incorporated across their 20-year run.
Three years after their synth-heavy meditation on the boundaries between humanity and technology, 'Pagans in Vegas', Candian indie darlings Metric are back with their new record 'Art of Doubt'.
What's immediately noticeable on the first listen is the shift back to their early 2000s guitar-driven sound, with the synthesizers still present, but playing second fiddle to the heavily distorted guitar riffs. It immediately stands out on the album opener 'Dark Saturday', with its nostalgic punk styled riff and howling siren-like synths that prepare fans for a trip down memory lane to Metric's formative days. The welcome reminder sustains as they slide into the synth-heavy 'Love You Back', another track that showcases the signature guitar-synth fusion that the band is now famous for.
'Die Happy' is a reminder of the great lyrical capabilities and poetic sensibilities of frontwoman Emily Haines. "So what is this so-so-society? / Still drinking that Kool-Aid like it's free," Haines asks on the track while referencing the Jonestown Massacre as a commentary of the blind faith we have in the modern era of consumerism.
The clever brevity of the lyrics continue in the album highlight 'Now or Never Now' which is a close look at the hopelessness one often feels under the yoke of the times. But the tone remains bravely optimistic in the chorus, which brings in a sense of urgency to get up and do something about it instead of wallowing in the shallow seas of misery. All this is served sweetly in a wrapper of 80s' synth attacks heavily leaning on the post-punk aesthetics reminiscent of acts like New Order.
The title track, carefully placed mid-way through the album is an anthem of endurance and perseverance that showcases drummer Joules Scott-Key's steadily thumping footwork, with beats that continue to form the substrate for the post-punk aesthetic, this time with a beat oddly reminiscent of LCD Soundsystem's recent single 'Emotional Haircut'. Haines, for her part, draws on elements of gothic and punk as she mixes the vocals up between operatic flourishes and brief screams of anguish.
'Dressed to Suppress', the second single from the album is definitely another key highlight of the album, showcasing one of Haines’ best vocal performances on the album. The song brings the contrasting blend of catchy hooks and serious lyrical themes that Metric have mastered over the years, as they take the electronics and the guitars to the absolute edge. "Dress to suppress all the sorrow," Haines sings in the earworm-inducing chorus, a reminder of the many ways in which we repress our real feelings by voluntarily distracting ourselves with the endless choice in creature comforts.
But 'Art of Doubt' is not just a throwback to the old days as the band celebrates its 20th anniversary. Through its twelve tracks, it wanders through many stylistic approaches, never settling for one particular sound. From the punk and new wave infused 'Under The Black' to the ominous thrasher 'Underline the Black' to the slow-burning 'Seven Rules', Metric touches upon a host of genres that the band has incorporated into their ever-changing sound over the years. Yet, the album still flows almost naturally through the shifts, stitched together masterfully by producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Beck, Nine Inch Nails).
Through all the sharply arranged instruments and the heavy lyrical themes, the album clearly shows that Metric is still having fun, doing what they do best and more importantly, what comes naturally to them. For longtime fans, it's a trip down memory lane as the band lays out the best elements of their prolific body of work, from 2003’s 'Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?' to 2015’s 'Pagans in Vegas'. For newcomers, it's a welcome invitation to explore the many facets of the constantly evolving indie powerhouse.
'Art of Doubt' is out now and streaming on all major services. Apple Music subscribers can listen to the full album below. Spotify users can listen to it here.