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Review: Torche Are So Un-Metal They’re Actually Metal on ‘Restarter’

8
SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: February 24, 2015
Label: Relapse

It should come to the surprise of absolutely no one that Torche don’t consider themselves a metal band. Despite the crunching riffs, thunderous drums, and stadium-sized volume, few (if any) of the influences that come to mind when you listen to Torche are from the metal world: the squall of of early shoegaze, the grandiosity of ’80s arena-rock, and the clean buzz of ’90s alternative. Which is not to say that there’s not plenty of classic thrash and sludge metal in there providing the band’s musical base; just that all of the spices and flavorings  basically, everything that makes it cool and exciting  come from other musical touchstones.

And exciting it is. Many have come to refer to Torche as pop metal or even bubblegum metal, but that’s not really accurate especially for new album Restarter, which is lighter on the percolating riffs and firecracker drums than 2012’s Harmonicraft. Pop songcraft is an influence but not an imperative for the Miami quartet, they’re just as content to stretch on a lurching, sun-baked groove for seven minutes as they are to power through two verses, two choruses, and a bridge in under 3:30. That Steel for Brains interview with singer/guitarist Steve Brooks linked above really hits the nail on the head: Torche is just Fun Metal, as buoyant as it is heavy, as sweet as it is sludgy, as toe-tapping as it is head-banging. They prioritize engagement over extremity a rare-enough preference for the genre.

Furthering that disconnect, Restarter may be both the band’s most- and least-metal album to date. The band definitely sounds more brutal than ever, with several tracks dipping into monstrous full-band thud or hissing white-noise crackle  sometimes for minutes at a time, sometimes for just a beat in an otherwise melodically cogent measure. But it’s also the most cohesive-sounding effort the band’s had, both in the four-as-one tightness of the group’s playing, and in the almost trad-rock obviousness of the pacing, with the ass-kicking opener, the big-single fourth track, the tension-building second side and the expansive, epic closer. It feels like a Big Rock Album, the kind that we barely get from any band these days, no matter what part of the mainstream or underground they hail from.

As usual with Torche, lyrical content is a secondary concern: most of the information you need about the songs is made available through their names (which are often the only intelligible thing about the respective songs). “Annihilation Affair” is the city-leveling leadoff, with fireballl shredding and earthquaking bass/drum rumble; “Blasted” is the pop-punky riffer with lemon/lime vocal harmonies and soaring double-tracked guitar outro; “Barrier Hammer” is… well, you can probably take a guess. Most fun of all is probably “Loose Men,” which through its Sunset Strip-esque prowl and cheeky title seems like the openly gay Brooks’ loving sendup of ’80s Los Angeles cock-rock betcha-can’t-screw-just-one anthems like “Girls, Girls, Girls,” even if the actual lyrics include nothing so promiscuous.

Despite originally deriving more closely from the lineage of ’90s stoner metal acts like Kyuss and Monster Magnet, the mid-’80s are definitely the period most closely evoked by Torche these days: when the metal and post-punk worlds converged into hybrids like Killing Joke and the Cult, when Rush would release a song with Aimee Mann, and Dinosaur Jr. would gush about their love of speed metal. Heavy dissonance and distortion were an inextricable part of even leading indie lights like Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine. (The infamous “holocaust section” in the latter’s live performances of 1987’s “You Made Me Realise” is even echoed in several codas here). Torche’s sound is touched by many of these bands, but not beholden to any of them: In fact, the band sounds more singular than ever on Restarter, becoming less sonically limited as their aesthetic grows more defined.

Restarter ends with its title track, a nine-minute road-tripper that stands as the most transfixing thing the band has done since “Out Again,” the eternal-echo closer from 2010’s Songs for Singles EP. The song’s locked-in, hypnotic chug equally evokes the hellfire-flicked sexiness of Queens of the Stone Age at their struttiest, and the post-apocalyptic howl of Youth of America-era Wipers. If the song’s title is to be taken as much at face value as the rest of the album’s tracks, it would seem the band was using its run-out groove to once again clear the decks, to announce the end of times only to come up with something even better next time out. If Torche think they’re not metal now, let them dare to show us can unmetal they can be.