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Torche
Restarter Jonathan Dick , February 17th, 2015 12:29

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. Restarter, the band's fourth full-length, sees a return to form for Torche that even in its unabashed nods to frontman Steve Brooks's other musical endeavors, retains the pop sensibilities that have continually been the point of distinction between the two.

The band's formation came soon after the breakup of Brooks's initial music project, highly influential stoner/sludge act Floor, whose recent reunion and subsequent release with last year's excellent Oblation (Season of Mist) at the very least suggested the possibility that Brooks could have some crossover in sound from those respective and utterly distinct projects. While this might be a fun point to offer up conjecture as to "what this all means" for Torche, the better question might be "so what?" That's not a glib refusal to acknowledge the reality of a possibly bad album or an apologist perspective for the artist just "taking a really big risk," but rather a perspective that while completely different bands, both Torche and Floor are not so dissimilar that Brooks cross-pollinating their sounds would result in some catastrophic disaster.

While it's a rimshot-worthy observation to make in most cases, the title of Restarter is more than likely a pointed statement not to fans but to the band and their beginnings as less hook-oriented and more quickly paced pop-tinged doom metal. Torche's music hasn't always been the stoner-doom-by-way-of-pop that both helped and in some ways hindered 2012's otherwise very good Harmonicraft. Though not a misstep by any means, the record lacked the smooth pop-doom fusion of its predecessor in 2008's Meanderthal, a record that still stands as one of the last decade's most nearly perfect heavy metal releases. That album, released on the at-that-time still vibrantly active Hydra Head Records, was preceded by 2005's self-titled debut that found the band's sound primarily focused on a hook savvy but not overly-saccharined low-end doom framework.

A seemingly insignificant factor, the cohesion of those sensibilities and ensuring the heavy came first is precisely what made Harmonicraft less sure of itself, and that element which provides Restarter a clear-cut point of removal from any sign that Torche's creative vision is unequivocally rooted to heavy fucking metal. 'Bishop In Arms' is a perfect example of Torche taking their most effectively catchy elements and channeling them through a characteristically concrete-heavy doom filter. Though often represented as the low and slow standby of heavy metal subgenres, doom metal executed by Torche is a singular brand where the "slow" factor is an option rather than a mandate to make sure they toe the party line.

Many of the songs on Restarter rarely stick around for long with the nearly nine minute closing title track as the lone anomaly. What for any other band might seem like a disjointed hit-and-run approach to writing a riff without a home, Torche has long offered a very loud and melodic point of contradiction to the idea that forward-thinking metal absolutely must extend its music at or near the point of mental and/or auditory exhaustion in the listener. Torche are masters at short and sweet heavy metal, but the group is at their absolute best when that brevity meets focus.

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