The idea of a rarities album, for most bands, can result in something of a horror show. Strands are collected together in a seemingly arbitrary manner and the result is a mess that divides the purists in the fanbase in a holier-than-thou dialogue of righteous and zealous contempt for the existence of such a product as its very existence besmirches their hard-won record collecting supremacy. The tracks can often sit together poorly as the tracklisting is as ill-conceived as Jeremy Clarkson’s jeans and trainers combo, and the finished album ends up as merely a bad idea taken too far. Not so for METZ, however.

The twelve tracks that make up the digital release of Automat work well as a unit, a rare feat for such a project. There is a flow and direction here which was missing from their last proper LP Strange Peace, which felt tired and a little formulaic to these ears. The vinyl version of Automat comes with extra tracks in the shape of three cover versions (of Sparklehorse, The Urinals and Gary Numan tracks – thanks for asking), but lowly hacks like me are only given the digital format to review. Such a hard life.

The tracks appear on the album in chronological order, but such is the strength in the recordings that there is no obvious lack of quality in the production in the early tracks compared with the later ones, which adds to the sense of flow here.

‘Soft Whiteout’ opens proceedings, a track which predates their deal with Sub Pop and was originally released in 2009 on the We Are Busy Bodies label. All of the ingredients that make the METZ sound are present – screeching guitars which are beautifully loud in the mix, hollered vocals which aren’t, and a pounding rhythm section which lays down a sense of urgent anguish which runs throughout the best work of this band. The fiery opener is followed by the track’s original B-side ‘Lump Sums’, which is less direct, more discordant and ambling to begin with, albeit ambling in a disgruntled manner. It’s a great big slab of repetitious riffs and a wall of noise which incessantly builds towards an abrasive breaking point about halfway in which veers the song in another direction. It’s the best thing here by some distance.

If you jump seven years from there, and ten tracks further on the album, you have Automat’s closing song, which is the 2016 single ‘Eraser’ (its B-side ‘Pure Auto’ is track eleven on the album). It’s on doing this that you realise that METZ were pretty much a fully formed entity when they began – their debut single sounds as vitally propulsive as anything recorded since, and shows no signs of a band learning their trade. If anything, there is a noticeable production polish to the tracks towards the end of this album which highlights the changes of the band through the years. Their style hasn’t changed, but likely the budget has. Still, both ‘Eraser’ and ‘Pure Auto’ are impellent and powerful slices of noise.

Elsewhere on the album the 7-inch version of ‘Negative Space’ adds little by way of variation to the version that closes their first album. 2012’s single ‘Dirty Shirt’ allows singer Alex Edkins to really let rip with his visceral howls, and sounds like Zeni Geva covering No Age. That’s a compliment, by the way. ‘Can’t Understand’ harangues the ghosts of the late 1970s American punk scene, whilst ‘Ripped on the Fence’ sounds like the urgent and direct version of Sonic Youth that SY were always thankfully far too fucking cool to muster. The album’s title track adds a certain sense of twisted psychedelia to METZ’s sound that you didn’t know you wanted. It’s a cracker.

Rarities and ‘collection’ albums should always be worthy of hesitation on the part of the listener. For the diehard METZ fan there is little here that won’t be talked about really loudly in the pub to ensure everyone knows they are cooler than Pam in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (‘cos she gets thrown in a chest freezer, mate), and that they had all these first. For decent people not wishing to score hipster points from thin air, however, this is a decent body of work which would actually work well as an introduction to the band for those yet to encounter METZ’s noise to date.