On Restarter, Torche delivers the smoothest sludge.
In the post-Grammy inanity, it’s high time that metal demands more respect in the American consciousness. The golden statute for best metal song went to Tenacious D for Satan’s sake, a literal joke band. I propose a different sort of awards show that caters only to the finest headbangers in the world. At this hypothetical spectacle there’s an award for "Metal MVP" and it’s got Steve Brooks name written all over it. Brooks already cemented a legacy in the Southern metal community with his work in sludge titans Floor and Torche, but it was in the late 2000s that he and the many merry rabble-rousers he worked with started a skull-crushing reign. In 2008, Torche released their breakthrough, the manically energetic Meanderthal, but 2012 was when Torched kicked it into high gear. Harmonicraft is one of the finest metal releases of this decade, a thrilling joy ride with rainbow colored guitar solos and Brooks’ soaring vocals reaching new heights. Afterward, Brooks regrouped Floor and released the solid Oblation last year. Turns out that sludge pioneers get bored, and Torche had launched back with the aptly titled Restarter.
Torche have smartly realized that there was nowhere to go with Harmonicraft’s hyper active sound. It was the best aspects of pop-rock and sludge melted together, a synthesis that would be near insurmountable. So Restarter is a quick hit on the reset button, a slower, muddier affair that focuses less on skydiving guitar riffs and more on stomping low ends. That much is obvious from the brilliantly thrashing opening salvo "Annihilation Affair". Along with having the best song title in recent memory, "Annihilation Affair" sounds like a steam-roller of war, barreling into battle. Restarter’s best songs follow "Annihilation Affair"’s example, immovable objects rumbling forward thanks to guitar work that’s heavier than lead elephants. "Minions" has Brooks acting as an evil wizard, shouting out "come my minions!" and the guitars rally to his cry. The decimation of "Barrier Hammer" falls into the same vein of war-chants that fellow sludge disciples Conan brought on their last album. "Barrier Hammer" only clocks in at about four minutes, but it’s as overpowering as a warship, and serves as the first great metal moment of 2015.
That’s not to say that Torche have completely trashed the speedy tricks they pulled on Harmonicraft. "Bishop in Arms", smartly placed between "Annihilation Affair" and "Minions", has Brooks’ guitar howling in unison with Andrew Elstner’s. Elstner and Brooks are perfectly in sync throughout Restarter, it feels like they did a Super Saiyan fusion dance before they started recording, so their combined ferocity could engulf the album. Jonathan Nuñez and Rick Smith also get their kicks in as Restarter’s vital rhythm section. The all crushing low end just wouldn’t be the same without Smith’s head-stomping kick drum or the churning madness of Nuñez’s bass. The ferocious fun of "Loose Men" sprints along, a solid reminder that Nuñez and Smith’s backgrounds are in Screamo and Grindcore, smartly showing they can still bring the speed when needed.
Restarter, for all its excellence, is still overcast by the monolithic shadow of Harmonicraft. But Restarter’s finale and title track confirm that Torche are brimming with ambition and unafraid of new directions. "Restarter", is a multi-part, nearly nine-minute epic, that pulses along thanks to a surprisingly emotional guitar solo and one of Brooks’ finest screams piercing the madness. Torche show no fear on Restarter, delivering further proof that they might be the most spirited band in metal.