Release Date: Feb 24, 2015
Record label: Relapse Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Heavy Metal
Miami's Torche have been eluding metal fans since their 2004 inception with their unique brand of spacey doom metal/stoner rock, filled with pop melodies and the catchiest of hooks. Their latest release, and Relapse debut, titled Restarter, is no exception. Once again utilizing Kurt Ballou's (Converge) mixing skills, the new ten-track album follows the band's stunning 2012 LP, Harmonicraft, and continues Torche's tradition of defying and surpassing expectations.
On 2012's Harmonicraft, Torche found the sweet spot between sludge-fisted, planet-crushing riffage and radiant pop bliss, resulting in something akin to a food fight between Sugar and the Melvins. Restarter, the Miami-based metal unit's fourth studio long-player, is far less confectionary, but it's hardly a savory affair. A veritable highlight reel of their past three offerings, the ten-track set is a convivial, drop-tuned juggernaut of major chord malevolence that distills sludge, doom, pop, punk, and stoner metal into a fist bump that breaks fingers.
There are few bands that demand your attention like Torche do. Every single second of every single intro digs deep into you and makes sure you're taking note as to why this band's got its hooks sunk in -- which hits you as each track progresses. Restarter has tall shoes to fill as it comes on the heels of 2012's Harmonicraft and when it comes to the latter, it was always gonna be tough to top it.
A lot of time and energy will go into attempting to decipher just what the title of Torche’s fourth album refers to. Does it mean the band are wiping the slate clean and starting afresh? Are they heading back to their roots after what some consider (wrongly) to have been a slight misstep with Harmonicraft? Are they simply picking up where they left off back in 2012? The band themselves claim that Restarter is an attempt to simply capture their sound as it is now, and to make an album as close to their live experience as possible. With Steve Brooks’ former band, the stoner behemoths Floor having kicked back into life recently, it is tempting to imagine that the past has influenced Torche’s songs too; although the band claim that they never want to look back.
Torche leave very little room for misinterpretation as Restarter, their fourth album, begins. On vicious opener "Annihilation Affair", the quartet wallops a short, simple theme, in unison, at mid-tempo and very high volume. Frontman Steve Brooks barks his words, delivering them like marching orders as an enemy approaches: "Know it, build it, grow it, blow it," he shouts, the band surging behind him.
Veteran metal quartet Torche understand that you can’t continue to release the same record. And so Restarter was born. It’s the band’s heaviest album to date, a step back toward their early days of Melvins worship and melodic sludge. It’s not a retread, but rather a band returning to its roots after a decade of playing and experimenting together.
In the post-Grammy inanity, it’s high time that metal demands more respect in the American consciousness. The golden statute for best metal song went to Tenacious D for Satan’s sake, a literal joke band. I propose a different sort of awards show that caters only to the finest headbangers in the world. At this hypothetical spectacle there’s an award for “Metal MVP” and it’s got Steve Brooks name written all over it.
Florida-based rock band Torche has always confounded expectations. They usually are lumped in with the metal crowd, despite having many pop- and mainstream rock-influenced elements. One is the commitment to soaring, melodic vocals, courtesy of frontman Stephen Brooks. Another is the occasional big, major-key anthem (not very "metal") and the bright, cartoonish visual aesthetic surrounding the band.
Talk about over-egging a promotional pudding. There’s been a retro Torche vs Robots computer game thrown out into the public domain and enough single tracks released to tease a brick into submission. Having been drip-fed all that, to the verge of saturation, it is a delight to finally understand how the tracks flow as a complete set. In fact, the interconnectedness of Restarter actually surpasses even that of their wraparound 2012 release, Harmonicraft.
I think what can make metal a tough for sell for some – and even for me much of the time – is the tendency for artists to overthink things. Sure, most metal bands start from a carnal enough place, but when it comes to songcraft, the thrilling bare-bones of the genre – riffs, hooks, energy, speed – are often drowned out by unnecessary embellishments, from overly long, droning arrangements to implementing as many different parts and movements into a song as possible, making things more convoluted than bracing. This is why Torche felt like such a breath of fresh air to those of us fatigued by metal’s excess.
There’s a reason why Torche are hot property in the world of heavy music. It’s cause they play music that’s knowingly, intentionally, unashamedly fun, and not in the worst kind of boneheaded bullet belted way. Instead they are a band that has taken on the unenviable task of convincing a community of sludge metal fans that pop hooks aren’t for the weak.
If it's possible to do anything quietly in Torche's loud and heavy niche of the sound spectrum, the Miami quartet has taken an unassuming path to becoming one of the last decade's most consistent and consistently powerful rock bands. With "Restarter" (Relapse), its fourth studio album since 2005 in addition to numerous EPs and collaborative projects, Torche perfects its volatile mix, a work that at least matches the potent "Meanderthal" (2008) as a career peak. Though Torche has looked askance at any attempts to characterize it as a metal band, "Restarter" is easily the band's weightiest.
Torche – Restarter (Relapse)Torche is all about juxtaposition: their particular brand of metal depends on the tension created by the heavy trudge of dropped tuning and pile-driver rhythm grinding tectonically against melodic vocal harmonies bearing the weight of pop hooks. The intersections of these two seemingly disparate elements, the heavy and the poppy, are in fine form on Restarter and should appeal to fans of both heft and sweetness.There’s certainly precedent for the riffage here, heavy and repetitive, in Queens of the Stone Age and Black Sabbath. But what sets Torche apart is a particular low tuning, casting a distinctive and extra-sludgy tincture on the proceedings.
It's tempting to reduce the development of Torche's sound to a gradual moving away from knuckle-dragging metal to leavened, anthemic guitar pop. But listen to their 2009 split with Boris or their 2010 EP, Songs For Singles, and suddenly that trajectory has more than a few wrinkles in it. Restarter, Torche's latest and first for Relapse, reflects that evolution while also being their first record to incorporate all of the band's disparate sounds.
Over what seems like a very short time span of ten years, Torche has seen their nearly exclusive sound garner an impressive number of fans as well as generally widespread critical acclaim. Even a brief listening experience reveals that the band's coveted formula for success in the world of independent heavy music makes complete sense. The music has been catchy enough to offer accessibility to more than just the self-enclosed world of heavy metal fandom and yet versatile enough in its execution to keep (most of) the knee-jerk purist criticism at bay.
Torche have never really been your typical metalheads. Where most bands find themselves revelling in blood-drenched imagery, the Floridian four-piece roll out illustrations of rainbows and clouds. When some groups get holier-than-thou about the technicality of their riffs, Torche douse the whole track in melody and just turn up to eleven. Over the past ten years, their melting pot of pop hooks and sludgy metallics has served them well, and if their latest album is anything to go by, they show no signs of slowing down.