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Icky Mettle


Archers of Loaf



Release Date:


Reviewed by:
  PostLibyan, Tracers, and Malimus  

There are several touchstones to Miniondom, and they tend to revolve around music. One of those touchstones is the North Carolinian band Archers of Loaf. They have been defunct for years, but are finally planning a re-union tour. As such, I urged my Minions to prepare reviews of the Archers catalog. We start things off, appropriately enough, with their 1993 debut record, icky Mettle.


Let me start off by saying that it has been _years_ since i have listened to this record.  If i go back and listen to the Archers now, this is not the album i choose.  And yet, i know that i loved it at the time.  Taste is a funny thing like that.  So, in the interest of science and re-familiarizing myself with the Archers catalog prior to their reunion shows in July, i dragged this CD back out, ripped it to my Zune, and re-listened. 

The first thing that strikes me listening to it now, if that it is kind of lo-fi.  There is a fuzziness to it, a slightly non-slick production.  Not early Bill Callahan level of fuzziness, but it is still there.  I don't think of Archers of Loaf as a lo-fi band, but there is a hint on this record.  Huh.


Although you wouldn't know it at the time, obviously, everything you need to know about the Archers of Loaf is contained in the first six bars of the first track on their first album, Icky Mettle, Web in Front. The first track on their debut album opens with five beats on a tightly wound snare - thwack, thwack, thwack, thwack, thwack. Then Big E saunter-stumbles in. "Stuck a pin in your backbone, smoked it down from there. All I ever wanted was to be your spine." By the end of that opening line the mess of guitar has crashed in and you're underwater. Honestly, that's all you really need to understand to understand who the Archers were, what their music was about, and why they were so freaking awesome. It's mostly just straight rock convention, except the lyrics, which announce from the start that Eric Bachman is talking about something a little different. That they're intent on taking mostly conventional elements of hard rock - some might even call it "icky metal" and doing something special.

And just in case you weren't sure, later on they just come right out and tell you. "Yeah there's a chance that things will get weird. Yeah that's a possibility."

All of this on the opening track of their debut album. The sheer audacity is just mind boggling.


What i like about this song is that is grows progressively messier.  It starts with the precision of the five timed drum hits, then adding guitar, voice, bass, more guitar, and a cacophony of yelling voices as the song progresses.  The opposite of most bands, who start unfocused, and get more organized as they progress.  This is classic NC indie rock.

  Web in Front is one of the classic Archers of Loaf tracks. It shows their early, fairly heavy sound quite well. I suppose this element shouldn't be too surprising, considering that Icky Mettle was recorded and released under the influence of grunge. Still, I will confess that I'm partial to the crisper, less noisy version of this tune that's found on their rarities compilation Speed of Cattle.  

Then suddenly on the next track, Last Word, the Archers are doing a metal song. The riffing on the choruses here owes more to Black Sabbath than anything. In retrospect, this isn't that odd, but when this record came out hair metal bands were still lingering on the scene, so this is kind of surprising. A decent tune.

Wrong however, reminds me of The Pixies. Specifically the way that one guitar chugs and the other chimes is very Doolittle. However, Wrong gets a lot more melodic in the middle than anything The Pixies ever mastered. Big E and whoever he is harmonizing with sound great.

You and Me starts with a slow bass riff just thudding along, and Big E whispering. Again, The Pixies come to mind. I love the strange horns in the background after the song gets all hectic. It adds a nice layer ... actually, wait, is that a horn or some kind of intense guitar distortion?

Might is Superchunky. The guitarwork reminds me of Cool.

  Might (along with Wrong) is where I start to hear the anthemic approach that characterized a lot of the Archers' later sound. Both tunes are loud, fast, and repetitive enough so that even the casual listener can shout along with the band. You can also hear the slightly angular guitar and thudding bass which really came to the forefront on later records, in particular Vee Vee. Admittedly neither song breaks new ground, but both are enjoyable nevertheless.  

Hate Paste has an epic sounding swing to it, a really loping beat.

Fat is a short song of yelling and riffing. It sounds like an early punk tune they wrote when the were first starting out. The drummer tries his best to channel Alex Van Halen.

Plumbline is the second classic from this record. The guitars grind along and Big E sings in a disaffected manner. "She's an indie rocker, nothing's gonna stop her", indeed. Here the band are taking their influences and making something new.

  Ah, Plumbline. I loved this song the first time I heard it nearly 20 years ago. I still love it today. From the opening guitar riff to the chanted end, this is a song that always makes me want more when it comes to a too-quick end. The vocals may be laconic, but it works with the narrative structure of the tune. And when Eric Bachmann sings out, "Clearly this is your fault; clearly it's not my fault", I can still hear the veiled bitterness of his tone across the years.  

Learo, You're a Hole is my least favorite song on the record. I don't like the vocals here -- they sound strange and almost forced. It is not the disaffected drawl of Plumbline or the angry howl of Fat. I almost feel like this song is here to show that they can sound like Thurston Moore when they want to. Whatever.

Sick File continues that Sonic Youth-y vibe, at first, then suddenly gets all punkishly fast, like something from Damaged-era Black Flag. Sad to say, but Big E i no Henry Rollins. This style just doesn't suit his voice very well.

Toast has a long meandering intro, but when it really gets going i like the guitarwork. Two minutes in and the vocals start. Both this tune and Backwash, which comes next, sound new and fresh. These are Archers songs, not songs the Archers do that sound like someone else. They could be on a later record.

And then finally we wrap up the debut record with Slow Worm, a grinding bluesy number. It's okay, and great in this context, but now i know that they were to do this kind of thing better on later records. Still, this is a good end to the record, a slow fuzzy fade out....

  It's funny. I always say I really like Icky Mettle, but I've realized that, for me, the album ends back with Plumbline. In fact, I always program my CD player to go straight from Plumbline back to Web in Front. Taken as a entity unto itself, those first seven tracks range from brilliant to solid, and if that were the end of the record, I'd have given it 6 sponges. But those last songs just seem like filler to me and may account for why I don't listen to all of the album very often.  
  You know, it is kind of hard to review a record like this. I remember that when i first heard it, it was exciting. Now i look back at Icky Mettle and see a couple of great tunes, a few good ones, and then several that wear their influences a bit too close to their sleeves. Now i know that Archers of Loaf are capable of so much more, but back when this came out that was yet to come... With hindsight i want to give this four sponges, but i think at the time i would have given it six. Let's Split the difference and say five.  
Related Links:

Artist: (fan site)
Also on EvilSponge:
   EP: Vs. The Greatest of All Time
   Album: Vee Vee
   Compilation: The Speed of Cattle
   Album: All the Nations Airports
   Album: White Trash Heroes
   Live Album: Seconds before the Accident


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