Local 506, Chapel Hill
Long embraced by a heavy metal scene in which it’s something of an awkward fit, Miami’s Torche bucks against staid notions of what metal or hard rock can be and represent.
Even though the thunderous, lumbering low end and deliberate pacing of Torche’s songs earns comparisons to sludge and doom metal, the band doesn’t have any of the dourness or misanthropy that genre often carries. They’ve been likened to stoner-rock icons Kyuss, though Torche’s arrangements are denser and more layered than the California band’s. Sonically, Torche has as much in common with shoegaze or noise rock or ‘70s stadium rock as it does with metal.
With its fifth album, Admission, Torche further expands its prismatic, emotionally complex, and—dare we say—righteously catchy catalog. Jonathan Nuñez, Torche’s longtime bassist, and now, its guitarist, might have put it best in the album’s press materials.
“In a world of Sabbaths, we get to be Van Halen,” he said.
Still, that hasn’t stopped the band from receiving acclaim from the metal scene. Second album Meanderthal landed at number one on Decibel Magazine’s list of the “Top 40 Extreme Albums of 2008.” Restarter and Admission both bear the imprint of the reliable metal label Relapse, whose roster also includes the likes of Pig Destroyer, Incantation, and Full of Hell.
Torche has never tried to fit into any specific mold or meet any sort of expectations.
“We never know what’s coming,” Nuñez says. “We have ideas. We have songs. But the transformation that always goes on between a demo that you’re playing by yourself to the final product, there’s always this fun, like, ‘Let’s see what happens.’”
Going into the creation of Admission, that spontaneity proved even more vital. In 2016, between tours in support of Restarter, guitarist Andrew Elstner left the band with just nine days to figure out how to adjust before hitting the road again.
“It was something we dealt with in a very in-the-moment way,” says Nuñez. “There’s no time to think, we’re just doing it.” As Nuñez shifted to guitar, Eric Hernandez of noise-rockers Wrong stepped in on bass, joining the band’s core trio of Nuñez, singer/guitarist Steve Brooks, and drummer Rick Smith. Instead of a setback, the shift proved to be an inspiration.
“There was a feeling that was just ignited with that first show. From there, it got better and better,” Nuñez says. He, Brooks, and Hernandez were all bringing new ideas to the band, which spurred a sense of urgency and excitement. “There was an abundance of material. I feel like we are, collectively, the most attached to this release over anything in the past.”
Indeed, the band has touted Admission as its “most personal” and “transparent” album to date, its powerful riffs buoying nuanced and reflective lyrics. Rather than dwelling on any specific topic of state of mind, which Nuñez says is a common but limiting approach to making records, Torche aims for a full spectrum.
“This, in one record, fully encompasses up and down, heavy, sad, angry or angsty, happy, some sci-fi optimism; there’s all sorts of things,” he says.
Torche has always been as much about hooks as heft, but Admission takes it all a step further. As Brooks sings on the aggressive and atmospheric opener, “Where am I to go? / Up from here.”
The title track’s shimmering, atmospheric guitars feel as indebted to U2 as its rumbling rhythm section owes to heavy, exploratory metal bands like Baroness or Boris. Brooks’s vocal melody alone is worthy of a stadium-filling anthem.
Admission, Nuñez says, stretches the band far enough beyond its comfort zone that he was curious how it would be received by fans. Metal Injection wrote of the single, “Torche is back with the title track to the album and it’s hardly another down-tuned punch to the gut. Instead, Torche breaks out their new wave influences and drops a seriously catchy one on all of our heads.”
Beyond embracing and pushing to the forefront some unexpected influences, the songwriting veers away from metal tropes as well. Whereas metal—from “Black Sabbath” to “Hammer Smashed Face,” from “Rainbow in the Dark” to “Dopesmoker”—has often dwelled in escapist fantasy, hedonism, or horror, Torche keeps things grounded in reality. As he vamps into the refrain of the title track, Brooks sings, “I said it’s fine/ You will survive/ Yes, I will pretend/ I don’t need to love again.” The heartbreak at the core of the song is palpable, but so is the triumphant resolve in its delivery.
For all the sonic density and explosive volume Torche summons, its intention is not to bludgeon or oppress, but to envelop.
“I worked on it so that it’s not harsh,” Nuñez, who also produced the album, says. “It heightens the experience to not be totally exhausted and have ear fatigue.”
Nuñez says that, even as a child, he was drawn to sound—the way certain tones or frequencies would resonate in space and emotionally. His switch to guitar proved to be a challenge as he worked to dial in a tone that would provide the same level of “sonic comfort” he’d developed on bass.
“What I was searching for was unattainable,” he says. “I was like, ‘This is unreal. Why’s everybody else happy? I want to be happy too.’”
The quest for the right sound led Nuñez to build his own gear, launching a line of amps and effects pedals bearing the Nuñez Amplification brand. But that search for emotional resonance within the arrangements and timbres of the new songs proved fruitful for Admission.
“I love that this record reaches out in different directions,” Nuñez says. “There’s a continuity, a very identifiable sonic signature that is us. But it’s still growing. It’s still expanding.
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