This year marks the 20th anniversary of Metric forming in Toronto, and their seventh studio album seems to signify some sort of return to their roots. For, gradually, over the last few years, Emily Haines and company have embraced a more synth-based approach to their songs, a sound encapsulated on 2015’s Pagans In Vegas which produced rather mixed results.
Art Of Doubt, however, is their most guitar heavy album since their 2009 album Live It Out – and also one that sounds their most urgent. It’s that urgency that Metric have always done particularly well, and it’s here in the opening crunch of Dark Saturday, the tightly wound-up energy of Underline The Black, or in the pulsating drive of Risk.
If there was an issue with Pagans In Vegas, it was that the songs weren’t quite as strong as we’d been used to. And, while there’s nothing to measure up to songs like Monster Hospital, Dead Disco or Help I’m Alive on Art Of Doubt, there are several tracks that stand up well to the rest of their canon. Love You Back is gloriously frantic, with Haines’ ‘la-la-la’ vocals almost getting torn apart by James Shaw’s coruscating guitar line. Dressed To Suppress is another standout, another riff-heavy monster which sees Haines snarling with contempt one minute, then whispery and wistful the next.
Die Happy is a good example of the band mixing their love of synth-pop with this more guitar-heavy approach, a shiny, shimmering disco anthem but the lyrics about Kool-Aid and dystopia stop things from becoming too carefree. In fact, it’s lyrically that Art Of Doubt becomes more downbeat than may appear on first listen – the aforementioned Dress To Suppress talk of beauty as “a form of charity dressed to suppress all kinds of sorrow”, and Now Or Never Know takes an LCD Soundsystem-style synth riff to explore all kinds of negative emotions (“my life is on pause, it’s out of my hands”). There’s also a huge, howling rage to the title track which is shown at its best at top volume.
Yet there are still some flaws with Age Of Doubt – at 58 minutes and 12 songs long, it could stand for a bit of crafty editing. There are a couple of tracks which sound a bit like filler – such as Seven Rules and the overlong closing track No Lights On The Horizon – which make the record sound rather front-loaded. Even towards the end of the album though, there’s the odd gem like Holding Out, which explodes into a glorious chorus and includes incisive lines like “what are you doing tonight, you can’t just scroll through pictures and hide”.
After 20 years, Metric seem to have reached that stage of their career where they’re unlikely to surprise anyone but are still guaranteed to release an enjoyable record. While Art Of Doubt doesn’t quite touch their previous high points, there’s still more than enough to keep many a Metric fan happy.