Archers of Loaf

Icky Mettle

Rating: 3.9/5.0

Label: Merge/Fire

Like it or not, the early-’90s are turning 20 years old. With hindsight being 20/20, it seems the further we loom toward the apocalypse, the more we appreciate things that once really mattered to us. Of course, the bulk of nostalgia could debatably be chalked up to looking back with rose-colored glasses, but the best-case scenario sees these works finally getting the proper treatment they’ve long deserved. That’s not to say North Carolina indie-rockers Archers of Loaf’s debut Icky Mettle was, by any means, under-appreciated at the time of its initial release in 1993. In fact, it was a critical darling that dominated year-end best lists and later “Best Songs of the ’90s” conversations. But with such a beloved release being woefully out of print for far too long, its return to record store shelves and simultaneous digital debut is something to be celebrated. Further, Merge Records has done one of the best reissue treatments in recent memory, making Icky Mettle an essential purchase.

Eighteen years later, Icky Mettle only sounds dated in the sense that it perfectly captures its era. Floating in the mesosphere between Pavement and Superchunk, Archers of Loaf really managed to tap into something truly different. By being genuine at a time of disconnect with a passion for making the most of their apathy, Icky Mettle is a Rubik’s Cube of everything that made that moment of rock music so exciting. From the metaphors buried in the vivid imagery of Eric Bachmann’s lyrics to the driving momentum of drummer Mark Price, the album is a perfect storm of four tremendous talents giving a really unique gift to the rock soundscape. The opening track, “Web in Front,” (which first gained notoriety as a no-budget video submission to play between movies on USA’s “Up All Night” block) is a perfect example of the increasingly rare case of a heralded song that completely warrants its praise and still lives up to every bit of its hype.

Other labels looking to cash-in on the recent remaster craze should take notes on the fantastic job Merge did with Icky Mettle. The mixing of the album has never sounded better, maintaining the album’s spirit through greater clarity without compromising its edge through any sort of overproduction. As if that weren’t enough, the second disc contains not only the group’s follow-up EP, Vs The Greatest of All Time, the original 7-inch versions of their singles and the B-sides, but also the rare “Powerwalker” song from the A Day in the Park… compilation. While these songs aren’t quite on the level of Icky Mettle’s material, Merge’s inclusion of everything you could ever want from the Archers of Loaf of this era is to be commended to the highest degree. Whether you’re a longtime fan searching for these songs in optimal quality or a newer listener looking for a primer, this re-issue has exactly what you want and what you need.

Icky Mettle is an album that means a lot of things to an awful lot of people, and hearing this remastered version makes it clear why. It’s refreshing to see a label treat such a project with the level of care that Merge did here while avoiding any gimmicks or falling prey to the temptation to charge a ridiculous amount for the package. From the driving energy to the brash outbursts, everything is here and engaging as ever. Nostalgia may literally translate to “the pain of looking back,” but Icky Mettle proves that doesn’t have to be the case. Instead, it’s pretty fun to revisit Archers of Loaf’s masterpiece and feel that real excitement all over again.

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