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Torche: metal with a big pop buzz 

Wednesday, Jul 30 2008
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Listening to the colossal wallop of the Florida underground metal outfit Torche is a pleasure. Making that colossal wallop is equally fulfilling, but as I discover upon ringing guitarist and band co-founder Juan Montoya, there are some perils involved as well. "Can I call you right back?" he asks over the crackly cellphone connection. "It's kind of an emergency. We really need to find a music store."

Turns out Torche's drummer, Rick Smith, has been hitting his kit so hard on the band's tour with Japanese rock titans Boris that he's been demolishing cymbals left and right. So, just a couple hours before a gig in Cleveland, Montoya and his bandmates — Smith, singer-guitarist Steve Brooks, and bassist Jonathan Nuñez — are desperately hunting for a place to buy some new gear.

An hour later, Montoya calls back to report fresh cymbals are stashed in the van. When I ask whether playing heavily enough to destroy gear on a nightly basis is a point of pride for the band, he laughs. "It's cool," he says, "but, you know, we can't afford to keep buying shit like Metallica can."

As proficient as Torche is when it comes to rattling spleens and knocking paint off walls, heaviness and destruction are far from all the band has to offer. Welding brute force to some surprisingly bright melodies and pop-minded hooks, Torche is setting itself apart from a metal underground that lately seems to be drawing its inspiration primarily from Black Sabbath, Motörhead, and early Metallica. Not that the guys in Torche don't dig that stuff, but a collective love for the likes of Guided by Voices, Slint, and even the Cocteau Twins has shaped their music into something especially intriguing.

You might not spy that vibe quite as much in a live setting, where the group emphasizes its ruthless side, but more esoteric influences are splattered all over Torche's second full-length, Meanderthal. After the two-minute instrumental opener "Triumph of Venus," which smashes slashing math-rock guitars and rhythms against a huge, sludgy riff scraped directly from the bong, the band heads into the hard-charging "Grenades." Short, but thick with surging guitar buzz and guided by impassioned vocal harmonies, "Grenades" could easily have found a home on the first couple of albums by D.C. postpunk icons Jawbox. Elsewhere, the grinding "Sandstorm" indulges in muscular, Melvins-style skull-crushing as it moves from glacial to galloping, while the interlude "Little Champion" possesses the pop-punk bounce of All, and tracks like "Fat Waves" synthesize eardrum-shredding metal to My Bloody Valentine–style shoegaze-drone. It's not really until the monstrous, cacophonous title track at disc's end that Torche drops into a tar pit of apocalyptic doom and despair.

"It doesn't have to be generic heavy music with a growl," Montoya says. "There's so much stuff beyond that that has a great sonic attack and is still edgy. I was always a kid who loved rock 'n' roll, but I also loved pop."

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Michael Alan Goldberg

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