By Jim Schutze
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Listening to the colossal wallop of the Florida underground metal outfit Torche is a pleasure. And making that colossal wallop is equally fulfilling.
But as I discover upon ringing guitarist and band co-founder Juan Montoya, there are some perils involved as well: "Can I call you right back?" he asks over the crackly cell phone connection. "It's kind of an emergency. We really need to find a music store."
Turns out Torche's drummer, Rick Smith, has been hitting his kit so hard on the band's recent tour that he's been demolishing cymbals left and right. So, just a couple hours before a gig in Cleveland, Montoya and his bandmates—Smith, singer-guitarist Steve Brooks and bassist Jonathan Nuñez—are desperately hunting for a place to buy some new gear.
An hour later, Montoya calls back to report fresh cymbals are stashed in the van. When I ask whether playing heavily enough to destroy gear on a nightly basis is a point of pride for the band, he laughs.
"It's cool," he says. "But, you know, we can't afford to keep buying shit like Metallica can."
As proficient as Torche is when it comes to rattling spleens and knocking paint off walls, heaviness and destruction are far from all the band has to offer. Welding brute force to some surprisingly bright melodies and pop-minded hooks, Torche is setting itself apart from a metal underground that lately seems to be drawing its inspiration primarily from Black Sabbath, Motörhead and early Metallica. Not that the guys in Torche don't dig that stuff, but a collective love for the likes of Guided by Voices, Slint and even the Cocteau Twins has shaped their music into something especially intriguing.
You might not spy that vibe quite as much in a live setting, where the group emphasizes its ruthless side, but more esoteric influences are splattered all over Torche's second full-length, Meanderthal. After the two-minute instrumental opener "Triumph of Venus," which smashes slashing math-rock guitars and rhythms against a huge, sludgy riff scraped directly from the bong, the band heads into the hard-charging "Grenades." Short, but thick with surging guitar buzz and guided by impassioned vocal harmonies, "Grenades" could easily have found a home on the first couple of albums by D.C. postpunk icons Jawbox. Elsewhere, the grinding "Sandstorm" indulges in muscular, Melvins-style skull-crushing as it moves from glacial to galloping, while the interlude "Little Champion" possesses the pop-punk bounce of All, and tracks like "Fat Waves" synthesize eardrum-shredding metal to My Bloody Valentine-style shoegaze-drone. It's not really until the monstrous, cacophonous title track at disc's end that Torche drops into a tar pit of apocalyptic doom and despair.
"It doesn't have to be generic heavy music with a growl," Montoya says. "There's so much stuff beyond that that has a great sonic attack and is still edgy. I was always a kid who loved rock 'n' roll, but I also loved pop."
Perhaps because of those influences, Meanderthal was greeted with enthusiasm by both critics and fans when it arrived in April on well-respected Hydra Head Records (home to, among others, Big Business, Pelican and Boris), ensuring plenty more opportunities to get on bigger touring bills in the near future. But while Montoya says that all the attention coming Torche's way lately has been gratifying, he admits that there are some mixed feelings involved as well.
"It's rewarding that people appreciate what you're doing, but we've been doing it for a while now, and where we came from, it wasn't really accepted," Montoya says. "People, like promoters and stuff, they'd kinda shut us out. Maybe we were too loud for the club itself. They'd cart us out early.
"The music business is filled with a lot of creeps and shady people who are trying to rip you off. When you're a kid, you don't realize that's a big part of rock 'n' roll. But the playing itself and the music itself—that's what keeps you going, man. The personal accomplishments are good, and every day I'm finding new things that are satisfying about this. That's what makes it worthwhile."
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