Torche is an immensely likeable metal band. That could be largely because they deny being metal. Sure, they’re on Hydra Head, that venerable vestige of the sludgiest and the mathiest in metal’s underground. Your little sister might cover her ears at their muscular, down-tuned riffs, and ask if you could compromise on the National. Nevertheless, they’ve outright dismissed the classification in interviews. Perhaps they want to avoid being lumped in with other Melvins-indebted hybridizers of the moment, whose dilettantish hipness has seen them go from pretty good (Kylesa, Black Meddle, Part I) to pretty not-good (Black Tusk, Black Meddle, Part II) in a year or two’s time. More likely is that, their thrash fashion sense notwithstanding, they simply are neither macho nor “dark” enough for metal.
Case in point is “Across the Shields”, a soaring rocker from their 2008 full-length Meanderthal. The whole thing was pretty upbeat, but “Across the Shields” turned Meanderthal into a genuinely great summer album. Playing it cranked with the windows down and your sunglasses on was not only encouraged, it was inevitable. Songs for Singles milks this mass appeal at mini-album length — hence the name — and leaves behind Torche’s noisier quirks. There’s a lipstick stain on the disc, and band photos have them in D&G wraparounds and hijabs. They’re pretty serious about this whole not-metal thing.
Not that Songs for Singles isn’t heavy. It isn’t recorded by Kurt Ballou (as was Meanderthal), but it retains the Converge guitarist’s affinity for spacious, bottom-heavy disorder. Even the lightning-speed pop-punk opener “U.F.O.” is so swallowed by low tones that, if it weren’t so melodic, I suspect it might just sound like one long note. “Face the Wall” is heavy, period, but heavy like the mournful massiveness of Jesu or certain songs by Boris, not heavy like the volcanic title track from Meanderthal. A heavy your little sister could put her hands down for.
That is, as long as she’s into post-Nirvana alternative rock, Torche’s main reference point on Songs for Singles. “Arrowhead” channels Helmet’s “Unsung”, while “Cast Into Unknown” could pass for a Foo Fighters B-side. There’s even a high-pitched arena-rock bridge at the end of “Hideaway” that sounds like something Slash might play — or, something a grunge band might play while pretending to hate Guns N’ Roses. But fret not: lead singer Steve Brooks might sound like a teenage Scott Weiland, but this isn’t exactly Velvet Revolver. Torche’s melodies tend to err just slightly on the side of progressive, with just a few too many notes jammed into every phrase for mainstream consumption.
What really distinguishes Torche, though, is their songwriting thrift. Unlike their forebears, they aren’t beholden to the verse-chorus-verse format. One track, “Lay Low” isn’t even a minute long. It might keep them off the radio, but it makes for better pop. Go figure.
All that being said, I wish they showed just a little more range than they do here. All eight tracks are solid scorchers that burn your face right the hell off before you even realize you’re at track number eight, but only “Face the Wall” stands out, which tokenizes it. Don’t tell them I said that, though. I don’t want them to not like me back.