When Icky Mettle was first released, back in 1993, I was five years old. Unfortunately, we never had a copy of Icky knocking around the house, and in fact I had no exposure to Archers of Loaf whatsoever until a decade later, in my teens and devouring early 90’s rock music. Even after those ten years had elapsed, it was still practically impossible to find a negative review of Icky Mettle anywhere. Nearly another decade again, and this one is following suit.
There’s almost certainly a whole bunch of songs out there hailed as 'perfectly crafted, noisy guitar pop’, particularly from the early 90’s, and even more particularly from Chapel Hill scene that Archers of Loaf were an integral part of. ‘Web In Front’, a song synonymous with the band, and the one that opens Icky Mettle, is by far and away my pick of that bunch. I’ve listened to ‘Web In Front’ seven times today alone, and it simply never gets old. "There’s a chance that things could get weird, yeah that’s a possibility" sings Eric Bachmann, and he’s proved right when the odd refrain "all I ever wanted was to be your spine" somehow becomes one of the most touching sentiments you’ve ever heard, against a backdrop that’s one half distant reverb and one half overdriven squall. With the wealth of press already available concerning Icky Mettle, much of it from the original release date, it seems pointless to comment much further on the record’s well-documented sound. But from a thoroughly personal point of view, Icky Mettle wins out over so many records of its time by virtue of its far reaching influence on more recent personal favourites (Brand New in particular – Archers’ sound can be heard throughout the Long Island band’s sonically diverse career), and its perfect pitch of fresh wounds against sardonic humour. By the same token, a one minute, twenty second burst of noise like ‘Fat’ can sit comfortably between the twangy drone of ‘Hate Paste’ and ‘Plumb Line’s sarcastic pop.
With all the debate surrounding that Nevermind re-release, it’s particularly pleasing to note that the deluxe reissue of Icky Mettle, and its home on Merge in the US, and Fire in the UK, this time around, seem to have taken place for the right reasons. Merge, formed by Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan, is still home to their band, fellow Chapel Hill luminaries Superchunk, as well as Bachmann’s Crooked Fingers project. Fire Records, a London-based independent, has a strong history of supporting select artists both sides of the pond, counting reissues from the likes of Television Personalities and Teenage Fanclub, amongst others, in it’s back catalogue. In the case of both labels, the decision to reissue Icky Mettle feels like one born of love for the record, rather than anything else. For the value-hungry, the second disc of the reissue contains the excellent Vs. The Greatest Of All Time EP, as well as recordings of no less than nine hard to find seven inch tracks, some from Icky Mettle itself, some from other Alias and Stay Free! Releases. And for the cataloguers, there’s a limited edition blue vinyl (with a download of the bonus material) complete with new liner notes from the ‘Dean of American Rock Critics’ Robert Christgau.
Icky Mettle, as we already know, is an excellent record, and a touchstone for 90’s guitar music. Its influence has radiated across the last eighteen years, and just in case anyone managed to forego Archers of Loaf until now, this reissue serves as a perfect induction point. For those who were there the first time around, there’s Bob Weston’s remaster, and the addition of the EP and 7” tracks, to enjoy as material benefit. Perhaps most importantly, with the current climate for 90’s reissues, Icky Mettle’s new homes on Merge and Fire feels healthily like fans and friends putting one of their favourite releases back out there just because they just love it that much, rather than any sort of attempt to relive past glories or make some more cash. The sentiment expressed in the chorus to ‘Lowest Part is Free’ remains as valid and safe as it ever was.