(Hydra Head)

01. Triumph of Venus
02. Grenades
03. Pirhana
04. Sandstorm
05. Speed of the Nail
06. Healer
07. Across the Shields
08. Sundown
09. Little Champion
10. Without a Sound
11. Fat Waves
12. Amnesian
13. Meanderthal

RATING: 8/10

It's almost as interesting to dissect what TORCHE isn't, and why, as it is frustrating to try explain what the band is. They're not "post rock", because they write short and hooky songs, but they're not quite punk or metal either, because they manage to infuse two-and-a-half minute tracks with that same ponderous, coming-down-the-mountain endtime feel as the best moves of the ISIS/PELICAN axis. The resulting apocalyptic crunge manages to be both bombastic, martial, and seething with hooks and barely-suppressed energy — a pretty damn neat trick, and one that rises TORCHE above the hordes.

Songs like "Grenades" and "Across the Shields", while definitely identifiable as TORCHE, tip the balance so far over into pop territory that it wouldn't be a stretch to call them radio-friendly (a charge that means little to anyone not still living in a basement and measuring bands by their own imaginary penile yardstick). Either song would appeal to, say, a FOO FIGHTERS fan… but they retain the heaviness and cool guitar quirkiness that makes the band special. The overall atmosphere of TORCHE, as informed by FAILURE, latter-day CAVE IN and JAWBOX as by the band's sludge pedigree, remains just as poignant and strong, and their balancing act between heavy and catchy is still working.

If all that pop talk worries you, fear not. The album-ending journey of the instrumental "Fat Waves", the lysergic "Amnesian" and the incessant riff-hammer of the title track/outro will rattle your head like some art-damaged cousin to "Sabotage"-era SABBATH at their most hide-under-the-mixing-board drug-addled and freaked out. It's a pretty severe increase in tension and atmosphere from the poppier numbers at the beginning of the album, or the fast, punky momentum-builders like "Pirhana" or "Speed of the Nail" -- but it's such a skillful maneuver, you don't even notice your perception is being altered until you're well into the trip.

That's the beauty of TORCHE. They have their minor drawbacks – their reach still exceeds their grasp in the singing department, most notably, although it's hard to imagine these songs with anything other than these double-tracked, occasionally atonal vocal melodies atop them. But their prowess as songwriters, and more importantly as sculptors of sound, is impressive and getting better. The idea of "sludge pop" seems ridiculous, and would be a trainwreck in any other band's hands, but with TORCHE at the controls, it's a sound that made sense all along, but was just waiting for the right madmen to come along and channel it.


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