Metric Makes Another Abrupt Sound Shift On Seventh LP ‘Art of Doubt’ (ALBUM REVIEW)


Metric’s seventh studio album is another abrupt shift in sound from a band that has fluctuated between its rock, pop, and electronica influences over the years. Following the synth-pop sound of 2015’s Pagans in Vegas, an album that featured little guitar, the Toronto quartet releases its most guitar-driven album since 2009’s Fantasies.

Produced by Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Art of Doubt has a much stronger rock sound than recent releases, with James Shaw’s prominent guitars contrasting Emily Haines’s saccharine vocals. The album opens with its heaviest track, the buzzing amplifier and immense distortion immediately signaling the tonal shift. Heavy crunching guitars and one of Shaw’s best riffs anchor the menacing “Dark Saturday,” a song that comments on the emptiness of materialism. “I’ve been feeling this way forever and ever, a night in search of a day,” Haines sings over a bludgeoning rhythm.

The rest of Art of Doubt isn’t as heavy as its rumbling opener, but the rock tone is consistent throughout. Even when Haines’s new wave synthesizer lines pop up in the songs, they are flourishes adding to a mix that has the six-string in the forefront. “Dressed to Suppress” exemplifies the new sound, with Metric meshing its rock riffing, new wave synths, and pop hooks into an earwig that mocks the absurdities of dating and courtship. “Her beauty is a form of charity, dressed to suppress all kinds of sorrow,” Haines sings.  

Songs like “Anticipate” and “Now or Never Now” sound most like the Metric of the last decade, with their retro synths and new wave fusion of disco and pop. For the most part, though, Art of Doubt fuses those elements with the band’s early rock tendencies, with drummer Joules Scott-Key and bassist Joshua Winstead laying down heavy rhythms and Shaw delivering understated but propulsive guitar licks.

“Love You Back” fuses those elements well. “I’m gonna stand up and drag these chains; I’ve been held in place with wire and lace and waltzed around the drain,” Haines sings over rumbling bass and pounding drums that frame the song for the twitching synth and guitar lines. “Holding Out” and the title track are two of the album’s best songs, featuring Interpol-esque riffing, dynamic hooks, and Haines’s melodic vocals alternating between emotionally evocative and disaffected drone.

The band recorded the songs together with as little editing as possible, imitating in style and energy the live performances for which Metric has become known. The result is an album with the rock aggression of Metric’s early work combined with the melodic songwriting and pop hooks that have characterized more recent outputs. It’s a hybrid album that reaches back to Fantasies while also reaching ahead to the future.

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