February 23, 2015 | by Bryne Yancey

Exercising restraint while attempting to write about Torche is not easy—they’re not a band who appear to exercise it themselves. Listening to Torche evokes a feeling of a somewhat involuntary, but nonetheless welcoming letting down of one’s guard. Their songs, as heavy as many of them are, have an inherent ability to disarm and even comfort listeners in a manner few rock bands can. One second, you’re banging your head, the next, you’re flying; the next, your feet are pounding a sticky, beer-filled floor. It’s a special quality. You don’t so much listen to Torche as much as you just allow Torche’s music to engulf your senses. Torche is everything. Everything is Torche.

It’s appropriate that Torche appear to shy away from the “metal” descriptor, even as many of the riffs on their new album Restarter, out this week via Relapse, could move mountains or show up on weather radars. Heavy metal, as inherently goofy as virtually all of it is, often comes with an motif of ultra-seriousness perpetuated by both its musicians and its fans that’s a turnoff to some. Torche are a hard rock band, so say the marketing materials, and that’s a genre just clouded enough in its definition to not take itself too seriously—you’ll never read a thinkpiece about or twitter argument over what’s “hard rock” and what isn’t. Hard rock is, loosely, non-alienating rock music played at parties, on dive bar jukeboxes, through car stereos that’s heavy, but not too heavy; that’s interestingly composed, but also accessible; that has a palpable sense of fun to it, but isn’t willfully stupid. It’s AC/DC and Motorhead and Van Halen and yes, it’s Torche.

Some, including Torche themselves, are painting Restarter as a return to form of sorts. There are some shades of truth to that—it’s undoubtedly a darker, moodier counterpart to Harmonicraft’s sunnier disposition, and is likely the most straightforwardly heavy album the band have released since In Return—but at this point, Torche are far from a one-trick pony. Sure, the pummeling repetition of “Annihilation Affair,” “Minions” and “Barrier Hammer” is something of a revert to the band’s earliest era, but “Bishop In Arms” and “Blasted” have a surprisingly catchy, palatable, prog-brightness to them. “Loose Men,” in which Steve Brooks elevates his vocal key to unseen highs, is basically a pop song gleefully played through a vat of dense sludge. Virtually the only thing keeping “Undone” from a similar distinction is Jonathan Nunez’s filthy, nearly-alien-sounding bass work. 

Restarter has its weird moments, too. A layer of intentionally distracting feedback lies over Nunez’s bass-as-a-lead-instrument in the slow, airy “No Servants,” evoking illusions of empty space and even the very fabric of outer space itself. The closing title track, in which Torche’s penchant for driving repetition treads into several minutes of spacier, rather than heavier territory, is uncomfortable in the best way; by minute 7 or so of the song, it’s virtually impossible to concentrate on anything else. The slow percussion and rapid riffing of “Believe It” is an interesting dichotomy; Brooks’ and Andrew Elstner’s guitars chug at nearly blinding speed while Rick Smith’s drumming stays slow, deliberate and cymbal-forward, and that’s primarily where the song’s heaviness originates. It’s a smart, nuanced, almost atypically backward approach for Torche to take but it works, and shows that even when the band promises a heavy return to form, they can’t help but continue to innovate.