Sunday, January 25, 2009

Review: Torche - Meanderthal (* * * *)

At the end of last year, I started to hear some buzz about Torche, who some were touting as having created the best metal album of 2008. I'm not much of a metalhead, but I decided that I needed to give it a shot to see what all of the fuss was about. After a couple spins through Meanderthal I was sold on the hype; Torche have created a solid record not only in the metal genre, but one that contains a good deal of pop accessibility as well. It's heavy, thundering rock music that you can enjoy without wearing yourself out.

Of course, the idea of combining metal and pop music is not a new one, but it's also rarely a successful or interesting blend. Usually the formula fails because the musicians don't truly understand the genres, and end up creating a shaky hybrid that doesn't excel in either. Torche doesn't suffer from this issue because they are a metal band, plain and simple, and they focus their efforts almost exclusively in that direction. Actually, to refer to the group as having anything to do with "pop" might seem misleading to some, but they understand something about melody and hooks that many of their peers do not and this album is unique because of it.

Much of the music is quite heavy, with crunchy guitar riffs, frantic drumming, and singer Steve Brooks' sludgy, yet earnest vocals. But, while songs like the instrumental opener "Triumph of Venus" and the dense, driving "Sandstorm" show the more traditional metal side of the band, the anthematic "Healer," the lighter, warmer "Across The Shields," and the punk-inspired tune "Fat Waves" are all examples of Torche's ability to introduce more listener-friendly elements into the music. Some vocal harmony, pop melodies, and the occasional bit of restraint allow Meanderthal to be an accessible, fun record without sacrificing the impact that comes with hearing a great metal album.

Maybe it's true that you can't please everyone, but Torche have gotten about as close as possible here by successfully creating something both metal purists and indie kids can rally around, and that's quite an accomplishment.