Back with their first album in almost three years, Floridian sludge-metallers Torche are back with ‘Restarter’, an album title that promises change in the air. The quartet have changed labels and found a home with the legendary Relapse Records; undoubtedly a positive move. However, the style established on their very strong run of records from ‘Meanderthal’ to ‘Harmonicraft’ (not forgetting ‘Songs For Singles’ between the two) of combining hard-hitting sludge with infectious melodies has taken a turn to beiger climes on ‘Restarter’, a record that sees the quartet shed the traits that made their “pop-heft” so enticing, and create their most forgettable effort in years.
What made that aforementioned run of records so great was that Torche were doing something so unique in their field; as giants of their ilk like Queens Of The Stone Age and Mastodon gazed further into their navels, records like ‘Harmonicraft’ so perfectly struck the balance between uplifting tones, stomping rhythms and adventurous dynamics it was a wonder to all why they weren’t far more than critical darlings. Compared to the sprightly and bright material on display in previous outings, opener ‘Annihilation Affair’ appears a cumbersome, lumbering lummox, firing up the fuzz to try and mask its single-chord drudgery. The spirits aren’t lifted much by ‘Bishop in Arms’, which shows glimpses of energy but ultimately goes nowhere and sputters out into nothing. Third track ‘Minions’ doesn’t even attempt to emerge from even first gear, preferring to stick in stodgy middle ground; the repetitive central riff of this track doesn’t even have the good grace to be heavy enough to be remarkable, thus completing a disappointing opening trifecta that sets the stall for ‘Restarter’.
This album isn’t beyond saving, but certainly does itself no favours. ‘Loose Men’ and ‘Blasted’ show what Torche are capable of within shorter song structures, showing off their pomp and prowess and spearheading a trio that’s almost as formidable as the opening three are weak. However, all the goodwill built up throughout the course of these tracks is sapped by the soporific trio that follows, almost bookending the album but for the eponymous finale track in an unfortunate Neapolitan ice cream sandwich with brown either side of the creamy middle – and the brown stuff isn’t sweet to taste. The doomy, sludgy elements of this aren’t terrible, and admirers of this sort of thoroughfare will be in awe of the gnarly guitar effects on show, but it just pales into comparison against what Torche have to offer elsewhere in their discography.
The aforementioned title track is a suitably odd end to a frustrating record; a near nine minute song that effectively amounts to an extended jam, where Steve Brooks’ shimmering riff allows him to show off his shredding skills, but little else through its prolonged course. ‘Restarter’ is an album that sees Torche fall into the all too welcoming trap of playing it safe having signed to a bigger label, much to the detriment of the quality of this record – the title suggests rebirth, but this shows rather stunted growth. The record works when Torche try to reclaim what was great about ‘Harmonicraft’ and if album number five can show more than glimpses of this, there is hope yet – however, for now, ‘Restarter’ cuts a rather limpid figure against Torche’s fine canon.
‘Restarter’ by Torche is released on 23rd February on Relapse Records.
Words by Ollie Connors (@olliexcore)