Stoner rock is a sound we’re glad will never change. Once that guttural bass sound nestles in our guts, it brings us back to the basest most primal aspect of rock music: loud guitars and booming drums sound real good. That said, it’s always refreshing to hear bands attempting to do something a bit different with the sludgy, fuzzed-out sound. Kyuss all but created the modern stoner rock template, and its splinter group Queens of the Stone Age have taken that style, and added a strong mainstream appeal to it. Mastodon started out as a fine Southern-style sludge outfit, but soon morphed those dense tones with a strong progressive metal element, making their 2004 album Leviathan one of that year’s most distinctly memorable records. And this year, we have another new band delivering their own interesting version of the stoner sound.
After Miami underground faves Floor disbanded after a decade, two full-length albums under their belts, singer/guitarist Steve Brooks and guitarist Juan Montoya were urged by a fan of Floor’s to work with former Tyranny of Shaw drummer Rick Smith. Not so coincidentally, that fan just happened to be the owner of Robotic Empire Records, and before long, bassist Jon Nunez joined, the band Torche was born, and Robotic Empire wound up with a monster of a debut record in their hands.
Contagious melodies are by no means a new thing to stoner and sludge rock. It’s interesting how so many bands are indebted to Black Sabbath, yet they all seem to forget that band had a tremendous knack for melodies; try as they might, most young bands are unable to match those Sabbath’s legendary hooks. Whereas Floor’s sound hinted at incorporating vocal melodies into the huge, monolithic, Melvins style mix (a great example being their song “Scimitar”), Torche’s eponymous debut release heads full-bore into a world where brutal riffs, churning rhythms, and soaring vocal melodies coexist, and when compared to the bulk of repetitive heavy music out there, the sound is not only very different from the rest of the pack, but it’s also a most welcome change. It’s as if someone opened the door to a band’s cramped, stifling practice space, and let some much-needed clean air inside.
While Torche’s label is comparing Torche to Nirvana’s first album Bleach, the vocal melodies are closer in style to that of ‘90s college rock faves Helmet, as Brooks’s vocal style bears a strong resemblance to that of Page Hamilton, the primary difference being, the vocals dominate the mix more. That’s not to say this band has sacrificed any heaviness; Brooks, who champions the “bombstring” style of playing a single, loose guitar string every once in a while, making for a wickedly low, almost explosive tone, is up to his usual tricks on this album, something instantly heard on the monstrous “Charge of the Brown Recluse”. When the chorus of, “War is beautiful,” kicks in, though, it’s not the usual cookie cutter stoner singing; instead, sly melodies are at work, layers of harmony vocals are added, making for a surreal contrast.
More propulsive tunes like “Erase” and “Rockit” have the band nestled firmly in a comfy, uptempo groove that dares to rival early Dinosaur Jr., as Brooks and Montoya toss in more melodic guitar lines to go along with the singing. “Safe” is enhanced by Smith’s intense, tribal drum fills and cymbal crashes, while “Vampyro” employs dual guitar harmonies that sound straight out of late ‘70s/early ‘80s British heavy metal, and the bluntly erotic “Fuck Addict” brilliantly alternates between ambient moments and explosions of noise. It’s the terrific “Mentor” that serves as the finest example of what Torche is trying to achieve, a massive, highly potent, relentlessly catchy rocker that balances a great doom riff with Brooks’s doubletracked singing.
Little more than 29 minutes in, as the nine minute epic exercise in controlled aggression “The Last Word” concludes, the album comes to an abrupt end, and while some may think that a full-length album that’s shorter than many EPs these days might be a rip-off, such is the genius of Torche, who leave listeners craving for more, leaving them with no other option but to hit the repeat button, and go through it all another couple times. After flirting with a more catchy form of the sludgier side of hard rock/metal in the past, Brooks and his band have taken Floor’s sound to a higher level, and are now ready for an audience considerably bigger than the underground crowd.