In music communities there is always discourse about the best bands, albums, or songs of a certain genre and time period. In the 1990s indie rock fans argued over the best or most influential bands like Sonic Youth, Pavement, Pixies, the list goes on and on. These same debates still go on today, especially within a lot of online music communities.
Through online discourse about the best bands of the 90s, younger kids have been able to rediscover artists like Duster, Slowdive, and My Bloody Valentine. Internet discourse about music has been really important to the popularization of older artists with younger generations.
In many of these discussions about the best or most influential indie rock bands from the 90s, I feel that Archers of Loaf rarely gets mentioned. I believe they never got the right amount of praise and attention they deserved in the 90s and today. According to my parents, who turned me on to Archers of Loaf, during the 90s there was a lot of discourse about Archers of Loaf vs Pavement, and who was better (which I feel like is an unfair comparison to both bands because they sound nothing alike). Growing up my parents were huge Archers of Loaf fans and I never fully appreciated their music until I was in high school and going through an “angsty” phase.
One day I put on their first album, “Icky Mettle,” in my room, and I remember not being able to stop myself from head banging to “Web in Front” and jumping around my room to “Might.” The album quickly became my go to album to listen to in the car, the album I listen to when class starts in five minutes and I’m ten minutes away and need something upbeat to get me to walk faster, an album I listen to when I’m frustrated, and so much more.
Archers of Loaf are a four-piece classic indie rock-outlet who formed in 1991 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The band is composed of lead singer and guitarist Eric Bachman, who has also had a solo career for over 20 years, drummer Mark Price, guitarist Eric Johnson, and bassist Matt Gentling, who is also the bassist for Band of Horses.
I started writing this piece a while ago but was having trouble describing my love for the band’s debut record because nothing I could write would perfectly capture how amazing and important this record is to me, many other people, and how influential it would be to future indie rock music.
However, the band recently released their first new studio album in over two decades, “Reason in Decline” on October 21, 2022, which inspired me to revisit their discography more and dive back into “Icky Mettle.”
Their debut album, which came out in 1993, combines elements of noise pop, power-pop, slowcore, and the slacker-aesthetic sound that was popularized in the 90s by acts like Sonic Youth and Pavement, is my favorite of theirs. “Icky Mettle” is a perfectly balanced record. It has just the right amount of angst and abrasive songs, tongue in cheek pop tunes, and slow burners. The opening track “Web in Front,” is one of my favorite songs and most iconic album openers.
The song is powerful and driving, has amazing guitar work, iconic drum beats, and lyrics you will find yourself instantly singing along to. The chorus of the song repeats the lines “all I ever wanted was to be your spine,” Bachman is crying out to be wanted and needed by someone, and he is instantly opening up and showing he is not afraid to be vulnerable on this record.
The third track on the album, “Wrong,” has some of my favorite lyrics on the album. Lead singer Eric Bachmann sings, “I do not think that you could like me, anyway / Because you are inferior to me,” but when the chorus repeats, he changes the word inferior to “superior in all aspects to me” changing the emotions from hatred directed toward the subject to hatred towards himself, which is incredibly personal.
Bachman’s poetic lyrics always stand out to me and he has many changes in his songs that will hit you right in the gut. He has some of the most clever lyrics from this scene. The instrumental on the song sounds angry. Price bangs the drums as if this is the last time they’ll play the song and Johnson shreds some of the most interesting guitar parts in indie rock: nobody plays like him and he definitely created a signature sound on this record.
“Wrong” is followed by another song fueled by anger and loss titled “You and Me.” It’s a sludgy and emotional track. It starts slow with just the bass line, it’s dark, heavy and consuming. The rest of the band kicks in after a few seconds with crashing cymbals, aggressive vocals, and screeching guitars. The energy on this record sets them apart from so many other indie rock bands in the 90s. This record made me realize how powerful and beautiful and emotional anger could be as Bachman seems to release all his repression and pours his heart into songs that ended up sounding so full and enormous.
Towards the middle of the record lies one of my favorite tunes on the album, “Plumb Line.” It was one of the first songs of theirs I got into and it’s the perfect tongue-in-cheek pop song to break up the heavy hitting first half of the album. The song starts with a catchy and perfectly fuzzy guitar hook from Johnson and a driving bass line and drums from Gentling and Price.
The chorus is my favorite part of the song when Bachman sings, “she’s an indie rocker and nothings gonna stop her, plumb line says she’s a bitch.” He was clearly hurt by a really cool girl even though he tries to hide it by singing “clearly this is your loss, clearly it’s not my loss.” She’s out of his league, so she’s instantly a bitch. It’s really silly, and at the same time endearing, because it’s like the mental simplicity we all wish we could have, or at least I do.
You got to love a classic sassy breakup song for when you want to direct all your energy outward. This is honestly one of the most perfect break up albums, as Bachman goes through the bitter aspects of a break up and his inability to look inward. I find the immaturity of some of the lyrics comforting, because it can be hard to face our insecurities and downfalls.
Bachman also goes through conflicting feelings of self-hatred at times which is humanizing and grounds the record, and it’s refreshing to hear him admit his most vulnerable feelings. At the end of the song there’s a chanting part repeating “she’s an indie rocker and nothings gonna stop her” which is reminiscent of the chanting at the end of “Web in Front” and I love when Archers do that.
The record closes with the song “Slow Worm” and the song is an earworm for sure, it’s a great ending track, it’s amazingly catchy, and leaves you wanting more from the band. Especially in the last minute of the song as the feedback swirls and rings out over consistent drum hits.
After releasing their debut record, the band continued to release more projects full of energy and passion. They have an extensive discography, and another one of my favorite releases from them is a five track EP titled “Vs the Greatest of All Time,” which is another classic, yet overlooked, project from them. The EP was released a year after “Icky Mettle.”
The energy on the EP is so pure and raw, it’s impossible to recreate. Nothing makes me feel more unstoppable than listening to the opening track “Audiowhore.” They sure have a knack for setting the tone of their records in the first few minutes. The guitar parts in “Audiowhore” are swirling and powerful, carrying the angst of the tune. The other four tracks on the EP are equally as amazing, the next song “Lowest Part Is Free!” holds on to the energy of the first track and continues to build upon it.
Another classic song of theirs comes next, “Freezing Point.” This track is one of the closest comparisons to Pavement that I could see. It’s the perfect indie rock tune, more lo-fi, the chorus is super catchy, and I could easily see Stephen Malkmus singing the chorus.
Their energy was (and continues to be) chaotic, consuming, inspiring, and authentic. Archers of Loaf created some of the most amazing music of the 1990s and are often forgotten about. They changed indie rock music and created a distinct sound and energy that nobody can replicate.
If you want to be cool and listen to who I believe to be an underrated band, you can check out their music on Bandcamp and other streaming services, you can also catch them at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro on March 25 in support of their new album. And if for some reason somebody from the Archers of Loaf is reading this, or one of their friends sees this, can you please tell them to bring back the Archers of Loaf Pennants?