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Music Review: Archers of Loaf – Icky Mettle [Remastered 2-CD Edition]

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The year 1993 was a goldmine of rock music, particularly in mainstream rock, with influential albums by Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, and Pearl Jam topping the list. But also around that time in the underground scene, there were a number of bands making or touring behind records that would prove to have a lasting mark in the indie rock world and beyond, including (and certainly not limited to) Pavement, Red House Painters, Guided By Voices, Velocity Girl, Sebadoh and any other number of Sub Pop bands. And then there was Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s Archers of Loaf.

The Masterpiece That Is Icky Mettle

That year, Archers of Loaf’s “Web In Front,” the first track from debut album Icky Mettle was not only a short, addictive and multiple repeat-worthy guitar pop ditty, it was a huge hit on college rock radio and one of the top songs of 1993. As for the rest of this band’s debut album, it had a number of gems, some heavy (“Slow Worm”), some angry (i.e. “Wrong”), while others were lighter by comparison but catchy (“Plumbline”), or driving post-punk rock and roll (“Backwash”).

In other words, Icky Mettle became an instant classic, and therefore, this collective consequently built up for itself a big underground following and an undeniable influence on other indie rock bands for years to come, including the likes of Modest Mouse and Hot Rod Circuit, and it became associated with peers like fellow NC group Superchunk.

Thirteen years after breaking up, vocalist/guitarist Eric Bachmann (also of Crooked Fingers) has gotten his quartet back together and touring this summer. To accompany the reunion, Merge Records (which was co-founded by Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan) has decided to give the landmark album new life and reissue it as a remastered two-CD set that totals a whopping 27 tracks. (The band’s other three studio albums will also be remastered and reissued next year.)

All these years later, this album still sounds as raw and lively as ever. The feedback that opens post-punk rocker “Last Word” still howls, the vocals are still slightly lower in volume in comparison to the ferocious punk rock guitars that assault your ears on “Sick File,” and tunes like the aforementioned “Backwash” still just plain rawk.

The Big Bonus Disc

Even if it is somewhat less consistent and even more loose (musically) than the original record, the bonus (second) disc contains 14 enlightening tracks of b-sides associated with this era of the band. It includes AofL’s first ever (1992) single, the 7-inch version of “Wrong,” which in this reviewer’s opinion is better than the album version, in terms of vocal performance and the overall mix.

It also contains the entire five-track Archers of Loaf Vs. The Greatest of All Time EP (or GOAT, for short), which originally came out in the fall of 1994, less than a year after the band’s debut began making noise in the indie rock world. It’s dirty-sounding guitars and associated noise was similar in style to Icky Mettle and makes for a natural accompaniment to it.

Highlights from it include the lyrically personally negative “Freezing Point” and the brilliant, alternately heavy and light angular riffs and chords of “Lowest Part is Free!” Tunes like “Audiowhore,” meanwhile, start with someone tape recording the band while it was experimenting with sounds, but then it suddenly pounds your ear drums with heavy thuds of power chords, cacophonous sounds and feedback. The live version that would appear on a later release is arguably preferable to this one, but it is still valuable in terms of capturing the band’s ideas at that exact moment. The same is true for “Revenge,” which doesn’t really get going until late and so some patience is required before its methodically crafted guitar and bass lines make it worth the wait. The shorter and superior version appeared on a 1996 AofL compilation.

Other standouts of this bonus disc include balls out punk rocker “Bathroom (7-Inch Version),” an early sketch of “Web In Front (7-Inch Version),” the softer “Tatyana,” with its unpredictable rhythmic changes, and the punk-ish “What Did You Expect.”

In all, if you call yourself a serious fan of A-level indie rock from the early ’90s, this record may already be in your collection. If you missed out and were late to the party, don’t fret, as you will have a second chance at experiencing one of the essential and most spirited debut records of that era starting next week. If you have to own one Archers of Loaf record, this is it, without hesitation.

Icky Mettle [Remastered] hits stores on Tuesday, August 2, 2011 in 2-CD, limited edition blue vinyl, and digital download forms. For more info on the band and current tour dates, visit its official site and associated links therein.

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About Charlie Doherty

Copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; print/web journalist/freelancer, formerly for Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; co-head sports editor & asst. music editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. See me on twitter.com/chucko33, myspace.com/charlied, & Facebook.