Torche are in an enviable place popularly, critically, and musically. Their brand of sludgy, stoner metal fused with sugary vocal and guitar hooks have placed them in an exceedingly likable sweet spot. They’re one of the few bands to reliably garner positive attention across the spectrum of indie, alternative, and metal publications and blogs (not to mention across the political spectrum). Musically, they’ve managed to sound positively fresh on every successive release, revealing some new dimensionality to a sound that is already so easily memorable and deceptively simple. Frankly, it’s a shock that Restarter, their fourth album, is the first to be released by a label as large and well-known as Relapse. But here we are, and here is Restarter, an album with a title that sets its mission out from the get-go. But after a string of increasingly successful — and peppy — releases that has left the band at the height of their popularity, what exactly do they feel the need to “restart”? What Torche make abundantly clear on Restarter is that if they are to restart anything, it’s the notion that they are first and foremost, and will remain to be, a sludge metal band. A really good, anthemic sludge metal band.
From the opening blasts of ‘Annihilation Affair’ through the majority of the album’s ten tracks, Torche make frequent use of their usual tools and tricks — drunken, chromatic basslines in off-kilter meters and phrases, spacey production, occasional bouts of furious drum rolls and guitar punches, all countered by Steve Brooks’s raspy melodic hooks. What immediately makes Restarter break from their previous work though, particularly the positively manic and bright Harmonicraft, is just how damn heavy it all is. ‘Annihilation Affair,’ true to its name, is an apocalyptic kick in the teeth. ‘Minions’ locks into its molasses groove immediately and simply revels in it for over 4 and a half minutes. ‘Undone’ is a furious sketch of a song that simply ends before it has a moment to breathe. The foundation of ‘Believe It’ shares a certain similarity to the work of fellow southern sludge lords Kylesa. And ‘Barrier Hammer,’ with its seasick chromaticism and bone-rattling moments of pitch-black drum and bass mud, easily rivals the band’s most cataclysmic work. Noticeably absent are the slick guitar riffs and many of the poppier flourishes that defined the most memorable moments of Meanderthal and Harmonicraft. Restarter is slower, darker, and heavier than any previous Torche album, but the band never lose sight of their core sound and skill at writing compact tracks that find a way to hook you in.
Like their previous output though, the tracks that stand out most are the ones that fuse the band’s darker side with their firm grasp of pop and alt-rock history. ‘Loose Men’ features some of Brooks’s most impressive and alluring vocal work to date, and the bouncy guitarwork and beat makes an incredibly immediate and downright danceable track. The simple arpeggiating riff that forms the backbone of ‘Blasted,’ combined with an incredibly sweet and satisfying chorus, will be pleasantly stuck in your head for days on end. ‘No Servants’ benefits greatly from the dissonance of its relentless feedback combined with a simple and poppy chord progression. And, of course, the final title track, at 8:40, is just a straightforward anthemic jam through and through. In the hands of a less capable band the track’s repetition and length might weigh down an otherwise incredibly economical and compact album, but instead ‘Restarter’ becomes a hypnotic closer that could probably go into infinity without losing its allure.
Put all of this together, and Restarter is a highly proficient and consistent album, possibly their most consistent effort to date. However, it also has a certain feeling of familiarity that is perhaps unavoidable by the fourth album. Whereas both Meanderthal and especially Harmonicraft gave a certain sensation of a band stretching themselves into new territory and expanding their sound, Restarter in many ways does the opposite. It is the sound of a band digging their heels in and stating, “This is who Torche is. Love it or leave it.” Given that this is an album released by Relapse, it’s not at all surprising that the band would want to re-affirm itself as one for the headbanging masses. It is just a bit disappointing though to not hear anything as farflung for the group as the flashier and thrashier parts of Harmonicraft, even if some of those experimentations weren’t as successful as others. All of that aside, Restarter is a very good album from a very good band who continue to tweak and perfect their unique blend of sludgy goodness.
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Torche’s Restarter gets…