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HARMONICRAFT: METAL SHOULD CARE ABOUT TORCHE

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Bubble-sludge? Superpower-pop? Stoner-slop? Beast-rock? Torche just begs to have some dumb genre named after them. As one of the heaviest, and certainly the catchiest, vocal bands in the domain of what might be called “metal,” that’s their burden to bear, and everyone’s pleasure to listen to. On Harmonicraft, their third LP since 2004, they strap on the jetpack propelled by pos-vibes and bongwater-fusion, and tear through a megalithic landscape of chest hairy riffage, and epic drooling vistas. It’s thirteen tracks of the most awesome beer commercial in history. And who doesn’t like beer?

The album takes off with “Letting Go,” two minutes of tribal pounding under singer/guitarist Steve Brooks layered, dudely harmonies, singing out like a tribe of feral David Lee Roth’s worshipping the sun. The next three tracks take over seven minutes in real time, but tear at such a clip that it feels like less than that, which technically qualifies as time travel. “Kicking” is next, and it’s the anthem, a restrained harmonic verse held together with a time keeping snare that lets the war horses loose in a heavy bit, and dissolves into a monstrous chorus, fogged by the ashes of fifty junior dinosaurs. Then there’s a light speed punker “Walk it off,” followed by the slow burning “reverse inverted” which smolders for almost three minutes before entering into a deep harmonic riff cycle that sounds like ‘80s Hetfield waxing faux-classical at a jungle campfire.

These opening four set the template for the rest of the album’s tracks, which come in the flavors slow (the appropriately ponderous “Roaming”), medium (the Van Halenish “Snakes are charmed”), fast (the jet pack ride of “Sky Trials”), and weird and meh (the Battles/Lightning Bolt-y mechanics of  the title track).

Relative to their previous efforts, Harmonicraft is Torche at their most upbeat. 2008’s Meanderthal is a little drier in its production, and maybe a tad heavier. The songs are more patient and well constructed than their eponymous 2005 debut.  If anything, the only frustration is that that it took them four years to put this out, but given the exploratory half-assedness of their EP “Songs for Singles,” the wait did them good.

So the album is good, really good, and it is at this point that many people, might be tempted to pull out the “but it’s not metal card.” This is a dumb card maybe, but in some respects true. Who else sounds so sunny and so heavy?

Nowadays the main place in metal proper to hear unabashedly positive lyrical and melodic sentiments is in power metal, and power metal –heroic musicianship aside- often sounds cheesy and knowingly schticky. It’s exaggerated to the point of silliness. Screamy-singy metal and hardcore might be positive in message, but the sounds are frictional, the melodic voices machine tuned, encased in digital adolescence. The fact that pockets of the underground have gone all-blackened-everything the last few years makes Torche all the more out of place.

It’s easy to forget, because probably a lot of us weren’t even born, that metal used to have more room for positive sentiments. Listen to Van Halen, or some NWOBHM bands like Saxon, not to mention the used needle grab bag of hair metal dipshits. But with “real” metal for the last few decades coming from hardcore inflected fusions of thrash, black, and death, it’s easy to lack reference, and wallow in the abyss of bummer. Heavy, fun, and affirming weren’t necessarily enemies of true metal, and they aren’t today.

Publically, Torche have been clear they don’t care about being considered metal or not. But whether the band cares about metal, Harmonicraft makes it clear that metal should care about Torche.

(4 out of 5 horns)

-MS

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