The stereotypical “sea and sun” image most often associated with the port city of Miami, Florida isn’t one that naturally lends itself to the heavy, blackened tones of doom metal, but then Torche aren’t your average doom metal band. Take the cartoon rainbows that decorate the sleeve of new album Harmonicraft, or front-man Stephen Brooks’ status as one of the scene’s few openly gay musicians; in fact, take any of the record’s clean, smooth vocals or sleek, laser-guided riffs and it becomes increasingly clear that the group no longer fit in that particular pigeon-hole at all. As first evidenced on 2008’s breakthrough long-player Meanderthal, Torche have long since moved out of the sludgy shadow cast by Brooks’ former band Floor, instead pushing their sound towards something more melodic, and although the consistently punishing backdrops of rhythm section Jonathan Nunez and Rick Smith (also members of grindcore outfit Shitstorm) ensure the old crowd never lose interest, it’s Brooks’ radio-friendly hooks and twin-guitar duels with new recruit Andrew Elstner that really dazzle. Drawing from grunge and late-’90s college rock as much as punk or hardcore, these are muscular anthems with an accessible pop edge, not dissimilar to Queens Of The Stone Age or those glorious early Foo Fighters records recorded before Big Dave disappeared up his own backside. Fist-pumping first single “Kicking” is an instant call-to-arms (“Lights up/ In the kingdom”), whilst you can virtually feel the sweat flying off heads-down rocker “Walk It Off”; elsewhere, the knotty textures and twisting time signatures of tracks like “Reverse Inverted” and “Sky Trials” give them an almost prog-rock feel, with zig-zagging lead lines at times more reminescent of Thin Lizzy-era Gary Moore or Brian May at his least pompous than contemporaries like Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou (who produced the album) or Harvey Milk’s Creston Spiers. Only epic closer “Looking On” revisits the strung-out, droning sound of old, but crucially Harmonicraft feels like a natural evolution rather than a conscious stylistic shift; listening to the Cult-like “Snakes Are Charmed”, it isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine the quartet rocking arena crowds, and with Josh Homme seemingly AWOL and Grohl settling into his new, self-appointed “elder statesman” role, Torche seem like more than capable candidates to keep the flame burning.
Harmonicraft is out April 23 on Volcom Entertainment