Torche, Restarter: Calling Minions

torche-restarter

While the title immediately evokes connotations for the band itself, the fact remains that Torche‘s Restarter could just as easily refer to an interpersonal relationship or someone who decides to go back and beat Super Mario 3 again. The lyrics for the song itself, which closes out Torche‘s 10-track/39-minute Relapse Records debut, are minimal and vague, just a couple lines amid nine minutes of steady riffing that carry the record to its finish. Like most of everything, it’s more likely not relegated to a single idea, but if the title provokes intrigue, so too does the album itself. Torche‘s fourth overall, Restarter follows 2012’s Harmonicraft (review here), which, while engaging as ever in Torche‘s blend of heavy tonality and melodic or harmonized vocals and irresistible hooks, was shortly and perhaps too easily upstaged by the subsequent single, Harmonslaught, which promised heavier things to come. It’s only been three years since Harmonicraft, but it feels like a long three years, with guitarist/vocalist Steve Brooks having released the Oblation full-length (review here) in 2014 with the reactivated trio Floor and toured to support it and Torche guitarist/vocalist Andrew Elstner, bassist Jonathan Nuñez and drummer Rick Smith having also pursued other projects in the interim (ShitstormTilts). I wouldn’t say Torche were ever really inactive or too far from public consciousness, but between the members coming back together to make this record and the signing to Relapse — a fitting home for a group so respected and prone to extended touring — it’s an easy enough argument to make that they’re trying to make a fresh start.

If that’s the case, they’re in a tough position. Like many acts with such a distinctly individual, almost singular style — think SlayerNapalm DeathSunnO))), or even to a certain extend Torche‘s recent tourmates, Clutch — Torche can’t veer too far from their signature blend of pop and heft without coming across as a completely different band. Restarter has a few bolder steps in songs like the slower groove of the ultra-catchy call to arms “Minions” and the near-brooding “No Servants,” Smith using half-time drums to make the material sound even more spacious than the tones he’s punctuating, but the sound is still unmistakable for anyone who’s heard Torche since 2008’s Meanderthal sophomore outing, their process having been refined and tightened after a transitional (in bridging Brooks from Floor to Torche) but clarion 2005 self-titled debut, and while opener “Annihilation Affair” absolutely crushes and caps with about a minute and a half of vicious feedback and noise backed by plodding toms, once “Bishop in Arms” kicks in with Brooks and Elstner in harmony, Torche are very much Torche. Nonetheless, the variety and energy they bring to the progression here gives Restarter a particularly mature feel while still remembering to have a good time in the post-“Minions” midsection trio of “Loose Men,” “Undone” and “Blasted.” Three shorter tracks — Torche are no strangers to songs under three minutes — they’re a familiar but welcome rush of hooks, melody and dense riffing, “Loose Men” a hook-fueled blast, “Undone” a tonal push that presages “Barrier Hammer” still to come and “Blasted” a righteous showing of form that ends the side A on a high note both in mood and tempo.

torche

Side B is a different animal altogether. Where four out of the six tracks on Restarter‘s first half are under three minutes long, the second half breathes a little more, with “No Servants,” “Believe It” and the aforementioned “Barrier Hammer” hovering around four minutes each before the nine-minute closing title cut. A feedback-laden start brings about a grandiose stomp for “No Servants” that feels somewhat in conversation with “Minions” in its riff, but gives way to the even-bigger-sounding “Believe It,” which meshes understated vocals with one of the album’s more furious instrumental progressions, the contrast effective in conveying both a sonic and emotional lumbering, lead guitar getting the last word in a long-ish fadeout perhaps meant to lull the listener away from consciousness so that “Barrier Hammer” can thunder in with that much more impact. Frankly, it doesn’t hurt, but the song doesn’t need the help. In addition to being the best use of Brooks‘ bomb-tone guitar since “Tarpit Carnivore” from the 2007 In Return EP, the track brims with purpose and stews in its righteousness. Two verses, a quick, gruff recitation of the title line and they get out of the way and let the riff have its space. One imagines it would be a beast coming through a P.A. of decent size, but on Restarter, it also serves to pick up from “Believe It” and transition into the vitality uptick of “Restarter” itself, which is comprised only of one or two riffs and the already-noted minimal lyrics, but proves hypnotic in its extended repetitions and smoothly river-currents the record to its end without losing focus on the way to its own deconstruction, the last minute-plus given to feedback, sustained guitar echo and swirl.

It’s a gorgeous and somewhat surprising finish. Torche have had extended closers since Meanderthal, but again, there’s an edge to “Restarter” and its method that underscores the band’s success in giving fresh edge to their established modus. I don’t know if Restarter is meant in reference to the band starting over or not, but they’ve made a record that, if that were the case, would make for a solid (new) beginning. This year marks a decade since their first album was released, and they’ve accomplished no small amount in that time, but if Restarter signifies anything at all, it’s that Torche‘s creative progression is ongoing and that while there are elements that will always reoccur, we haven’t yet encountered the full dynamic breadth of what they have to offer.

Torche, Restarter (2015)

Torche on Thee Facebooks

Restarter at Relapse Records

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6 Responses to “Torche, Restarter: Calling Minions”

  1. Torchefan says:

    MASSIVE mis-step by these guys after steadily gathering a greater following with their fantastic last two albums. This will alienate fans of their uptempo, catchy material and likely turn away true sludge fans with it’s sludge-lite sound. Restarter is stuck in a limbo of not really appealing to anybody but the band presumably.

  2. […] reading: The Obelisk | Review | Torche – Restarter (Courtesy of JJ Koczan / The […]

  3. Jadd says:

    Is it just me, or does this album sound a lot like Floor? I know that sounds like a dumb question, but to me there was a big difference between the two bands despite both having the same creative nexus… main difference (I thought) was the far greater catchiness and melody of Torche’s vocals, which never seemed like a component that was ever paid much attention to in Floor. The vox on this record could be the vox on a Floor record, is what I’m saying. Not to mention the drop in tempos on this album… again, I (perhaps mistakenly) associate Torche with up-tempo, melodic stuff, and Floor with dronier, less melody-driven, slow to mid-tempo dirges. I’m not saying I mind, I guess I’m just saying I’m not clear on the point of keeping the bands separate if they’re going to sound this similar.

  4. Aron says:

    Haha, I just told a friend that I thought Restarter sounded like what I thought Oblation would sound like, but didn’t.

    Oblation still isn’t clicking with me for whatever reason, but I’m digging Restarter. It does sound like a bit of a style change for Torche, less complex riffing, more straight-forward chug-n-sludge. I can see where some Torche fans would be let down, maybe the master tapes for the albums got switched?

  5. Matt says:

    I just listened to the album for the first time, and as somebody who kind of turned off to this band with ‘Meanderthal’, I’m happy to see them move away from the pop/ melodic / Fu-Fighters sound that album seemed to introduce. That style just seemed like it wasn’t going anywhere … wasn’t going to get on the radio and didn’t do much for me personally. Sorry if fans of the last two are bummed out on this album, but I will actually listen to this. Looking forward to seeing them in Philly!

  6. Milk K. Harvey says:

    So many different reactions, it’s interesting. Me, I did not care much for the previous stuff, but I ‘m getting hooked on this.

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