Torche - Harmonicraft
Record Label: Volcom
Release Date: April 24, 2012
Read pretty much anything that's been written about Torche, and you probably won't get two sentences in before seeing descriptors like "sludge," "doom," and "stoner" used to classify their brand of metal. While those words might accurately characterize bands who are superficially similar to the Miami quartet, I've always thought they were a little unfair, or at the very least misleading. They certainly can and do play loud, with the gritty riffs of, say, Baroness or Mastodon, but their songs are generally more energetic, bright-sounding, and possess a distinct melodic focus. The band's new release Harmonicraft, their first full-length since 2008's Meanderthal, finds Torche further indulging their pop muse. The result is a set of songs that retains most of the heaviness we've come to expect at this point, but with even more single-ready ear candy than ever before.
Which is likely to delight some fans while disappointing others, depending on which side of the band one prefers. Standout track and single "Kicking" highlights Torche's direction this time out; it probably has enough crunch to satisfy some metalheads, but largely foregoes the noodle-and-shred in favor of ringing chords. Add to that the almost Foo Fighters-like hook, and you've got a song that can easily squeeze its way onto some summer mixed playlists. Ditto for the opener "Letting Go", a true fist-pumper whose harmonies and soaring guitar leads suggest a level of celebration and joyousness that actually seems a little gauche in a genre dominated by seriousness and macho posturing.
Not that there's nothing on Harmonicraft to satisfy fans of Torche's more technical side, there's just precious little of it. Like all of their previous efforts, the album is a succinct affair-- thirteen songs in thirty-eight minutes, only one cut over four-- and it's most shred-happy moments come in its shortest bursts, the sub-90-second tracks "Walk It Off" and "Sky Trials". And for the sake of balance, the doom-sludge lifers get thrown a bone in the form of the comparatively sluggish closer "Looking On". In between, Harmonicraft is filled out with tunes you'd be doing a disservice by calling them pop-metal, but at the same time, there probably isn't a more apt genre tag for these generally hooky, guitar heavy jams.
While there is undoubtedly a slight overall shift to be heard, none of the sound or style of Harmonicraft should be particularly surprising to anyone familiar with the band's back catalog. Aggressive, yet lively and fun, has pretty much always been the game for Torche. If anything is surprising, it's that much of the record lends itself well to being pulled from the album context. Unlike Meanderthal, which seemed to me like this monolithic work of intensity, Harmonicraft sounds like it could spawn several hits in that alternate universe we all dream about where good music actually gets airplay. Which is short for, when I want to listen to a Torche album, it'll probably still be Meanderthal, but when it's random tunes to queue up on a Saturday night I'm looking for, this one delivers the goods. Which isn't at all a bad thing. It just means that, not only is Harmonicraft a triumph, it's an eclectic and versatile one too.
I still need a lot more spins, but I sort of agree with your last paragraph.
This album doesn't "beat" Meanderthal. That album is a monster of heaviness and joy, and I think the production came off a bit better, especially on the heavy parts.
But Harmonicraft still rules, it combines many of the qualities of both older Torche and Songs For Singles Torche. The opening song still throws me off though, might be my least favorite off the record.