Major chord heaviness sans pop melody
by Jericho Cerrona
To put things bluntly, Restarter is one of the year's biggest disappointments; a crushingly loud and incredibly dull record from a band whose modus operandi has always been to stretch the parameters of the metal genre since appearing on the scene in the mid-2000s. On albums like 2008's sludge/stoner masterwork Meanderthal and 2012's thunder-pop juggernaut Harmonicraft, Torche effortlessly combined heaviness and melody to create something that provided both incessant head-banging as well as sing-along choruses. Fearing perhaps some lazy Foo Fighters comparisons due to the band's penchant for arena-ready alt-rock, especially on 2010's Songs For Singles EP, Torche have scaled back their melodic tendencies and made an album that's certainly aggressive, but which ultimately misses the essential element that made them stand out in the first place; a sense of buoyancy.
Despite it's title, Restarter isn't the sound of a band forging a new path, but rather an excuse to return to the muddy production and overt heaviness of their early work, particularly 2005's self-titled debut. While this makes for some impressive sludge-driven riffage, like on the epic dirge "Minions" and the kinetically up-tempo "Loose Men", on the whole, Restarter is decidedly lacking in contrasts. What made records like Meanderthal and Harmonicraft so thrilling was the intersection of sugar-coated melodies with twisty math-rock rhythms and lightning-fast fret work. Here, Torche pile on the walls of distortion, thick guitar riffs, and dense production, but forget to bring a sense of urgency and conviction to the songwriting. Meanwhile, vocalist/guitarist Steve Brooks' usually euphoric harmonies are largely submerged under layers of fuzz, pounding drums, and amplified drone. While making music that's downbeat and cathartically heavy is fine, especially for a metal band, Torche don't seem that comfortable with this kind of one-dimensionality. Therefore, for all it's bludgeoning guitars and howling vocals, Restarter is a fairly boring listen; plodding along with overly familiar tempos and song structures that cry out for a sense of spontaneity. It's almost as if Torche forget how to have fun; busting out repetitive three-chord riffs in order to pad out their songs well past the point of interest.
Being their first release for Relapse Records, it does make sense that Torche would forgo the overall atmosphere of jubilation in favor of harsher sonic landscapes, but what's dispiriting here is that this shift in focus means they sound very much like any number of stoner/sludge metal bands on similar labels. For every track that pulsates with a sinister groove, such as "No Servants", there's a number of cuts here that simply come off like uninspired trudges through dissonant mid-80s metal, like "Barrier Hammer" and the muddy stomper "Believe It". Additionally, while the pulsating chug of the self-titled closer is initially a welcome blast of adrenaline, the song's nearly 9-minute runtime means that numbing repetition sets in well before it should.
Perhaps in creating the perfect distillation of their sound on Harmonicraft meant that Torche really couldn't stretch things out any further; choosing instead to retreat into a slower, muddier, less interesting brew of drone metal that lacks the vibrant experimentalism of past efforts. Whatever the case, Torche are too talented musically to become completely irrelevant, even on an album as lackluster as Restarter. What this record proves, for better or worse, is that Torche have found themselves in a position of stasis where moving forward is uncertain due to their complete mastery of a particular style, and where traveling backwards to retain a more primitive rawness results in something less than invigorating.