ALBUM REVIEW: Torche kindles a different flame on ‘Admission’

Torche, Admission

Florida quartet Torche has maintained hard-hitting heaviness for almost 15 years. It’s earned the band high regard as riff-addicted sludge metal rockers, but its no-nonsense approach often teeters on the mundane. Not that it’s been a problem for the band thus far, but with two lineup changes, it’s about time for Torche to shake things up. Admission accomplishes just that. Without going mainstream or prog, Torche attempts to expand its heavy rock template. For the most part, those attempts are successful.

Relapse Records, July 12

It wasn’t by accident that Torche opened Admission with “From Here,” a primitive two-minute beatdown. It’s what people would expect from the band—Rick Smith’s concussive drumming and devastating riffing by guitarist Steve Brooks, newcomer Eric Hernandez and founding bassist-turned-guitarist Jonathan Nuñez. The similarly brief “What Was” centers on single-string bashing and muck-caked chugs riding on a rapid punk rock beat. Both of these hint at a less guttural take on Brooks’ singing voice, foiling the detuned distortion with an almost shoegaze timbre.

Lead single “Slide” and penultimate cut “Infierno” are sure-fire successes for Torche. The former brings a bit more melodic guitar playing, while the latter plunges into apocalyptic heaviness. In both cases, Brooks’ voice floats over the top like a disembodied spirit. Whether he’s gliding over an addictive Melvins-style groove or bearing witness to a brown noise apocalypse, he brings a haunting melodic quality to this batch of tracks. Take out that element, and the two songs work well with their respective tasty licks and noise-mongering. Bring it in, and a noticeably different sound begins to form.

The title track is the first one that cements this album as a step outside Torche’s usual realm. It plays like a blend of shoegaze and ‘80s death rock, with the heavy guitar tone becoming its infrastructure rather than the facade. The reverberant guitar leads meld seamlessly with Brooks’ singing, bringing a melodic solo along with a constantly building wall of mesmerizing noise. This new environment allows the vocalist to embrace his more euphonic leaning to the fullest extent.

In the case of “Reminder,” the band finds a way to work new stylings into its more predictable template. Two-thirds of the song is based on a repetitive guitar riff. There’s enough rhythm changes to remain interesting, but it needs a satisfying culmination to redeem the slow burn. As guitar, bass and drums lock into a gritty ascending chord progression, an overwhelming wave of noisy bliss washes over it. Add to that Brooks’ grungy vocal drones, and you have a truly astounding moment.

There are, however, two moments where the band’s new pasture doesn’t yield as much fruit.

While it’s vocally driven, “Submission” suffers from a lack of riff changes. Sludge metal and stoner rock are known for doing a lot with a little, but you can only listen to the same two notes for so long before wondering what the point is. “Submission” gets by with an addictive beat, and compelling singing about the long-term consequences of conformity, but “Times Missing” has trouble getting off the ground. Clocking in at five-and-a-half minutes, it quickly begins to feel its weight. The monotone vocals drift along with the plodding rhythms, and there are no real riffs to speak of. Other than a solid instrumental break, this song’s sleepy vibe feels more like a textural exploration.

Overlooking a couple missteps, Admission is a remarkably diverse record. “Extremes of Consciousness” becomes a sludge metal take on new-wave, with its danceable beat and ghostly vocal harmonies. It’s a meeting of extremes, but the rhythm section stays punchy and the riffs stay chunky. It’s tracks like these that show a heavy band doesn’t have to stop being heavy to explore different sounds. It’s also what increases the weight of cuts like “On the Wire” when they drop. Yes, it’s groovy sludge by the book, but the detours other tracks take make these brain-bashing returns to form all the more memorable. 

The aptly named closer “Changes Come” summarizes Torche’s growth. At its foundation, it’s still a sludge metal banger—except that its dazzling guitar stylings, bouncy drumming and ethereal vocals would appeal to fans of Christian Death or even New Order. Other than a few underdeveloped passages, Admission sees a band known for its back-to-basics approach take admirable strides into new territory.

This story has been edited to reflect that Eric Hernandez is the newer member of Torche and that Jonathan Nuñez is a founding bassist-turned-guitarist. We regret the error.

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