In 2008, I thought of Torche as the most poppy stoner metal on the market. By 2012, the attributes have reversed. You won’t hear anything quite as doomy as Meanderthal’s title track, Pirhaña, or Sandstorm. That crushingly deep guitar still accompanies most of the tracks, it just doesn’t ever become the drawing point of the songs. On Harmonicraft, a catchy melody is job number one, and the results are tremendously effective. From the cover art on down, this is and will likely remain one of the most instantly appealing albums of 2012, and it exhibits a sort of songwriting ethos which hasn’t been very prevalent since the 90s.
Harmonicraft’s introductory song, Letting Go, certainly doesn’t mesmerize the way Triumph of Venus did. But unlike Grenades, Kicking requires no epic lead in:
Kicking introduces what will be the style and attitude for the entire album, and it amounts to nothing short of 1990s alternative rock. That occasional Foo Fighters vibe Meanderthal gives off was no accident, but it wasn’t necessarily a product of any direct “influence” either. I think the similarities you might draw to various 90s bands result from Torche’s mindset. Calling Torche “90s rock” is a little ambiguous of course, this being 2012. I suppose one could more directly observe that they took a stoner/post-rock sound and made it bright and bubbly, leading to a sort of “stoner pop” novelty. But when you apply the term “pop” to anything but teen idols you’re being just as vague, and furthermore, though Harmonicraft might seem new from a stoner metal perspective, it feels to me refreshingly nostalgic.
Snakes Are Charmed
Frankly, attempting to categorize Harmonicraft does it a disservice. It’s not a band trying to perfect or expand upon x musical style. It expresses more freedom than that. It harkens back to a time when heavier bands emphasized their own individuality, genres be damned. And that’s why it reminds me of rock in the 90s. I wouldn’t even call it metal, any more than I would call Nirvana or The Offspring punk. And as such, I think it stands at the forefront of music today.
The new standard is synthesis. Metal has been pulling it off lately, especially last year, with bands like Falconer putting a professional gloss on the best of many sub-genres rolled into one, while Liturgy, Deafheaven, and company were forging a more personal if sometimes less formidable approach to the same. Here, Torche are bringing it back to rock. Songs like Snakes Are Charmed have all of the immediate appeal of an instant radio staple, yet rather than repeating something stale, they reinvigorate rock through their more contemporary roots. You hear the stoner/doom and post-rock influences not as those styles, but rather as integrated elements of what it is to be a good rock band. The 90s took the metal and punk subspecies defined in the 80s and made it happen. Now here’s a band getting the job done with musical developments of the last 10 to 15 years.
If there’s any one band I could really compare it to, I’d say Boris.
Walk It Off
I actually forgot that Torche and Boris released a split in 2009 and toured together until after I drew the connection. In Walk It Off the influence is most apparent. Wata’s style is hers alone, but you can definitely feel the sort of inspiration she brings bleeding over into Steve Brooks’ own solos. (Or perhaps Andrew Elstner’s. I don’t actually know who plays lead.) But perhaps even more noteworthy, the more I listen to this track the more I feel that, above all else, the solo really resembles Billy Corgan.
And this all amounts to a really awkward way of going about an album review. Sometimes that’s inevitable. No amount of describing Harmonicraft from a metal perspective can do it justice, because it really isn’t a metal album. It is, on the one hand, an immediately and undeniably appealing compilation of catchy tunes which utilize various recent musical movements, mostly within the metal sphere of influence, to accomplish the delivery, and on the other hand, a sign of hope. It excites me to see that this trend towards emphasizing synthesis instead of genre expansion is beginning to spill out of metal and into more accessible rock. I’ll be disappointed if Harmonicraft ends up my favorite album of the year. It’s not that kind of album. It bears no strong message in and of itself–lacks the depth of a masterpiece. But if it could, by some twist of fate, become 2012′s most influential creation, I’d not complain.