Melodic mentalists Torche have returned with Harmonicraft, technically their first album in four years (considering 2010’s “Songs for Singles” is regarded as an EP and 2009’s Chapter Ahead Being Fake was a split album with Boris), and not a huge amount has changed in their sonic world. The last few releases, including last year’s split with Part Chimp, have seen the band continue on without founding member and Floor-alumni Juan Montoya, a process the band claims has vastly improved their work ethic. As a three-piece on the post-Montoya releases Torche’s songwriting has become more direct and less cluttered and while they’re still one of the most melodic and heavy bands around they’ve suddenly found their releases getting more media attention and even some chart recognition. But, most importantly, they’ve found themselves having more fun.
In that sense Harmonicraft, as the title may suggest, is the culmination of their journey as a band in the past four years and finds them at their most playful, their most melodic and at their most tight as musicians. With the addition of second guitarist Andrew Elstner, Torche are now a four-piece once again and as a result their sound is fuller than it has been for years. The band have expanded their palette, incorporating more rhythms and layers of keyboard to add space and dynamics to their songs, as well as adding to the dense guitar-work. For example, opening track “Letting Go”, with its bouncy rhythm, bassline and relentless layers of wiry guitars brings to mind Jane’s Addiction – a recurrent reference-point throughout the album brought home by Steve Brooks’ high-pitched, Perry Farrell-like vocals.
But the album is not quite as instantly gratifying as 2008’s Meanderthal. Honestly, it takes a few listens for some of the songs to stand out, perhaps due to Torche’s penchant for short, fast songs or maybe because there isn’t a huge amount of diversity in the sound on the record. But when the songs finally reveal their individual charms, they really grab hold. For example, lead single “Kicking” is pure bombastic pop-rock mastery. “Snakes Are Charmed” demonstrates the band’s knack for taking a riff and the listener on a journey; some sections almost sound like they could take a turn for the worse and veer into latter-day Blink 182 territory but the band subvert our expectations by throwing in an extra chord here and an extra beat there to change the feel of the riffs. Likewise, “Solitary Traveller” stands out for being a slower, slightly more sombre affair than the majority of the other songs but the major-key riff, atmospheric synths and Brooks’ deeper vocal delivery set it apart from some of the songs that tend to bleed into one another slightly.
Elsewhere, the band get down to their own brand of heavy rocking. “Reverse Inverted” has some of that classic Floor one-note heaviness while “Sky Trials” and “Walk It Off” are both pedal-to-the-floor heavy too. “In Pieces” is like Torche-do-Melvins and the title track is a kind of synthy, electronic take on the NWOBM bands. (I’m still trying to figure out if this is a good or a bad thing). Slow-burning album closer “Looking On” is the band’s sole foray into anything approaching doom or sludge territory – the one grey cloud in the otherwise panoramic, multi-coloured universe of Harmonicraft.
It doesn’t take much of a linguist to draw meaning from the album’s title – Steve Brooks and co have taken great care to craft an album full of well-written, melodic songs, although some might say that the downside is that some of that super bottom-heavy rock of their earlier work is lost under the melodic wash of colour painted on top of it all. As it stands Torche remain a unique band even if they’re not to everyone’s tastes. No-one says that heaviness and melody can’t coexist in metal and while Harmonicraft finds the two concepts awkwardly balanced on the musical scales, you’re not likely to find another metal album that sounds anything like this in 2012. The only thing missing is the bomb string…
Scribed by: Tom McKibbin