Mogwai

Matador

If metal really is the new indie rock, then Mogwai’s latest, Mr. Beast, was a wise career move. But then, the mostly instrumental indie-rock act’s songs have always carried the threat of metallic outburst, no matter how placid they got. Like primary influence Slint, the Glasgow quintet has polished to perfection what it calls “the sudden change in volume thing,” a très-’90s shift from jangling softness to an almost-gnarly combo of rhythm and noise. Not only that, the band has also remixed drone-metal icon Earth and curated an All Tomorrow’s Parties lineup featuring some of the finest names in two-syllable American-based alt-metal: Isis, Growing, and Converge. But Mr. Beast, Mogwai’s fifth proper full-length, is exceptional in that its heaviest tracks skip the flirtation and head straight for some wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am. Both second cut “Glasgow Mega-Snake” and finale “We’re No Here” deliver midtempo wallops worthy of Hot Topic. And though not exactly riff workouts, the initially pretty, piano-led “Auto Rock” and the initially prettier but eventually louder “Folk Death 95” have enough toughness to sustain the Hessian vibe. Of course, Early Man aside, indie-rock incubator Matador is hardly in the business of underwriting metal records, so it’s unsurprising that Mr. Beast is, on the whole, more eclectic than punishing. There’s “Acid Food,” a country-tinged ballad propelled by a blocky, robotic beat. There’s “Travel Is Dangerous,” a sudden-change-in-volume thing that recalls nothing so much as the aggressive ethereality of shoegazer outfit Swervedriver. And then there’s “I Chose Horses,” a barely there bit of ambience that pairs Mogwai at its quietest with a soft-spoken Japanese narrator. Interestingly enough, that voice belongs to Tetsuya Fukagawa, a member of crust-metal band Envy. As a collaboration, it’s unnecessary: “Horses” is a throwaway on an otherwise engaging album. As a statement of purpose, however, the cameo seems to imply that metal isn’t merely an opportunity for occasional catharsis—or even the occasional give-the-kids-what-they-want cash-in. It’s just another part of the internalized musical vocabulary of a better-than-average mostly instrumental indie-rock act from Glasgow. On Mr. Beast, at least, the stuff is always there—even when it doesn’t make your ears bleed. —Brent Burton