Metal isn’t particularly known for its sense of humor. Yet, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Take for instance Mastodon’s intro to the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie. That’s pretty damn funny. And the title of Torche’s new album, Meanderthal, is worth a chuckle or two, as well. More than a shining bit of wordplay, its etymology seems to suggest a combination of metal’s biggest stereotypes, one of primitive brutality and the other of endless wankery. It takes a particularly notable group to have a less heavy-handed outlook on a heavy genre, but that’s precisely what makes Torche unique.
With a vast majority of Meanderthal‘s songs coming in at less than three minutes, and many shorter than two minutes long, Torche swiftly proves themselves to be the antithesis of knuckle-dragging noodlers. A crisp and powerful extension of the dirty grooves and sunny harmonies of their debut, Meanderthal is a prime example of how well metal and pop go together when balanced just right. Too far in one direction, and you’re too muddy for a party, but too much of a tilt to the other leaves one at grunge. What Torche does is find that perfect line at which hooks and low end carnage can coexist harmoniously.
The album begins with “Triumph of Venus,” the one track in which the band lets their riffs fly into oblivion, but even then, they’re circling in formation, never floating aimlessly toward unknown galaxies. With “Grenades,” however, frontman Steve Brooks opens his mouth to unleash a mighty baritone over a sludgy and epic melody. It is in this song where the tone for the album is really set, with the group’s `doom-pop’ sound in full effect. It may be metal in its sonic accoutrements, but it’s rock `n’ roll at heart.
From there, the Floridian band wastes no time in delivering heavy riffs, grooves and catchy-as-hell melodies at record speeds. “Piraña” is 92 seconds of punk-fueled thrash, charging at full speed but optimized for good times and hedonistic road trips. “Sandstorm,” though slower and sludgier, still gets its vicious progression in and out before wearing out its welcome, though another minute wouldn’t be any less awesome. “Speed of the Nail” best sums up its careening assault in its title, as this thing is deadly sharp. But “Healer,” good lord, what a set of hooks this song has! Those jagged bastards just mercilessly dig in and never let go. Queens of the Stone Age should be so lucky to write a song like this.
“Across the Shields” is even sunnier on the pop side, going for a major key explosion that speaks more of Dinosaur Jr. than Mötörhead. And yet there’s “Amnesian,” as well, a six-minute epic beast that reveals the group’s more expansive side. Torche refuses to be one-dimensional in their approach, to the point where calling it by one genre seems wrong. Never before has a pop song sounded so gargantuan.
Karp – Self-Titled LP
Big Business – Here Come the Waterworks
Baroness – Red Album
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.