Torche – Meanderthal

4 out of 5

Label: Hydra Head

Produced by: Kurt Ballou

There’s a small cluster of sludge / stoner metal rockers out there who’ve bridged the gap from heft to relative accessibility, while maintaining their credibility – Baroness and Mastodon two big names in that crowd, for example. Sliding into that was a group who rather embraced the poppy side of the equation – something like metal power pop; perhaps an evolved version of hair metal – but maintained their bona fides by also, uh, rocking the hell out. Double bass drumming; soaring vocals; incredible, shredding riffage. Sure. Still, it’s a tricky balance to maintain, and I’d be the first to tell you: this band, Torche, generally doesn’t balance it in my mind, slipping into a lightweight take on stoner metal that’s not quite self-aware enough to justify its arena rock tendencies.

And then a brilliant album name that seems to put nuzzle that self-awareness awake – Meanderthal – and pairing up with a dude at the boards who normally turns heavy-ass hardcore into the heaviest hardcore – Kurt Ballou – and Torche deliver a nigh-masterpiece of the genre, staying laser-focused on jams that swirl between various modes of chugga-chugga, catchy singalongs, and just generally feel-good metal. The lyrics are, perhaps, pretty empty-headed – you don’t get the sense these songs are really about much – but that’s all part of the lighter-waiving, arms-pumping mentality fueling this stuff, and doesn’t engender much criticism beyond what I’ve already said, given each song caps at about two minutes, and makes sure to hit on the most ultimate form of whatever that song is about within those two minutes.

Confusing matters – or confusing me, preventing me from classifying Torche as a band set in their ways – they have some epic stylistic mash-ups here, or songs that step slightly off a beaten path: Fat Waves jumps from power metal to hardcore effortlessly, for example, and we get some true, slowed down sludge on penultimate Amnesian. This doesn’t even really sound like a Ballou record, excepting some thrum of bass and low-end, suggesting this really was a meeting of minds, settling on a sound and pursuing it to a very killer end.