When heavy-metal fans abbreviate the name of their beloved genre, it’s usually shortened to “metal.” For Torche, only the “heavy” part is necessary. There’s definitely some chugging, down-tuned sludge passages on Meanderthal, the Miami band’s second full-length and first for Hydra Head, and they’re heavier than God--no surprise there from a band with ex-dudes from Cavity and Floor in it. But after a couple minutes spent working out some proggy Mastodonisms on opener “Triumph of Venus,” Torche take a sharp turn off the metal course and enter far scarier territory: mainstream rock radio.
The rock ’n' roll backbeat and megawatt hook and blazing vocal harmony turn up an awful lot on Meanderthal. While that might put off a couple Pouty Peters that expected a larger “destroy” to “rock balls” ratio after Torche’s monolithically heavy In Return EP (2007), Meanderthal imparts a few minor revelations unto the rest of us.
Revelation one: with the right guitar tone, anything can be heavy. That includes the Foo Fighters, whose debut album provides the template for “Healer” and the first half of “Fat Waves.” And Queens of the Stone Age, too, who used to write riffs as taut 'n' vicious as the ones you’ll find in “Piraña” but never had Torche’s good sense to cut off their songs after a minute and a half, before the razorwire guitars have a chance to go dull.
Jesu hipped us to revelation two, but Torche clinch it: Crushing riffs sound inspiring in major keys. “Grenades” is a starburst of huge harmonies, huger guitars and bold melodic strokes; “Across the Shields“ ends in a fuzzy hyperspace riff that would make Billy Corgan grin if he were still capable of happiness. It’s a joy to hear such a heavy band go for emotional uplift when it could just as easily fill our souls with despair.
Revelation three: simplicity can be really complicated. Standard rock structures and big blooming choruses strive for directness, but you can’t understand what the hell Steve Brooks is singing about 95 percent of the time. Torche’s cosmically overblown guitar sound couldn’t be more idiotically epic, but it’s crammed into songs averaging under three minutes a piece. Well-crafted pop songs define Meanderthal, but its final track is a vicious slab of instrumental, repetitious doom. Even after you’ve memorized the album, it remains an enigma.
Meanderthal can liquefy internal organs without offending the neighbors, which means that it has the potential to join metalheads and rock radioheads in a spirit of togetherness. Maybe we don’t really need that. But we do need more music that defies and defines genres, and Torche do both in the least pretentious way possible. Meanderthal is a great record, and probably an important one, too.
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