Torche - Meanderthal (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review


Meanderthal (2008)

Hydra Head

It's almost as if Torche wrote a record in response to Hydra Head Records' habit of releasing discs of doomy, unlistenable forty-minute songs. The band that once penned sludgy, stodgy songs have produced an effort inarguably their most accessible to date: Meanderthal, an album that's anything but its title as it's a strong collection of XM-friendly stoner-pop/straight-up rock jams that tempers their elder sound and strikes territory closer to alternative radio acts like Queens of the Stone Age and even the Foo Fighters.

Whether it's through the layered declarations of the stomping, mid-tempo "Grenades" or faster romps like "Piraña," "Fat Waves" and "Healer," guitarist/vocalist Steve Brooks can often be found singing or shouting in an easily digested delivery that's less harsh and ugly than last year's In Return EP, 2005's self-titled or, especially, his days in the noisier and more off-kilter Floor.

The contrast the band presents is an interesting one, though. With songs like "Speed of the Nail," distorted guitars and bass can rumble and roll, creating an austerity that isn't always present; but then there's the incredibly happy and melodic in the seriously exceptional "Across the Shields," where Brooks could fill an arena with his proclamation, "I am your armor!" "Healer" and "Fat Waves" both find particularly smooth middle grounds, with a hard-charging riff driving each respective song and an excellently energetic pacing in both.

One of the especially confounding tracks is the brooding "Sundown" because, swear to fucking God, aside from the chorus it sounds like Jawbreaker circa Bivouac or 24 Hour Revenge Therapy; Brooks' nasally, distorted delivery on the verses could even pass for Schwarzenbach's. Upon further analysis, though, it makes sense: Brooks is highly influenced by punk rock, and not only sonically; the average song length here is under three minutes.

High-gloss production would probably really take this record over the top, but thankfully, Kurt Ballou applies his signature grit, which keeps the record steady and slightly muffled amid all the bold melodies. And frankly, the last two tracks, "Amnesian" and "Meanderthal," make sure things aren't all SquiZZ; the former is a six-minute thunderstorm and the latter a four-minute instrumental mammoth, both of which harken back to the band's earlier days.

Meanderthal is a different kind of mammoth than one's used to hearing from Torche, but when they seem to do it better than the bands they'll now assuredly be lumped with, they're certainly deserving of immunity.