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TORCHE (Harmonicraft) LP/CD

'Harmonicraft' is the third full-length album from Florida’s TORCHE, the follow-up to the 2008 album 'Meanderthal' and the mini-album 'Songs For Singles'. For all those who are familiar with these two releases: 'Harmonicraft' is the strict continuation of leaving behind the raw, slowly creeping sludgyness of their first releases, represented by the famous bomb-string approach, and instead steering full steam ahead into the waters of more fast-paced, melodious heavy rock. And heavy it is! After recording 'Songs for Singles' as a trio, TORCHE are a four-piece again. Mainman Steve Brooks is supported in the six-string department by former Riddle of Steel vocalist/guitarist Andrew Elstner.

I don’t know how much the newest addition Elstner was already involved in the song writing, but soundwise it was definitely a good decision as TORCHE’s sound relies more and more on the combination of awesomely heavy, detuned riffing and melodious, almost poppy guitar harmonies. The production is immensely dense and powerful, a great job done by TORCHE’s own bass player Jonathan Nunez. The multi-layered guitars and vocals blend very well with each other, the mid-range growl of the bass is distinguishable, and Rick Smith’s pounding drums sound huge. Overall a very nice mix provided by Converge’s Kurt Ballou.

TORCHE bless us with thirteen songs, most of them are very short, sometimes even under the 2 minutes mark. The relentless beat of 'Letting Go' starts the album, it’s a full-front assault of melodic heaviness, topped off with one of Steve Brooks’ best vocal performances too date. 'Kicking', the first single, is up next with a lively, addictive groove and melodies that stick to your head right away. After the ruthless and fast 'Walk It Off', the next song 'Reverse Inverted' slows down a bit into mid-tempo, a pace where I like TORCHE the most. It also comes up with very catchy guitar harmonies and vocals, so this track is the first real highlight for me.

Every song has its own highly memorable parts, there is no real let down to find throughout the album, only the instrumental title track doesn’t seem to fit in here that well, but I don’t care as long as they served the sugar-coated guitar lines of 'Snakes Are Charmed', the slow and laid-back 'Solitary Traveler', and the catchy up-beat tune 'Kiss Me Dudley'. 'Looking On' closes the album with a slow, heavy grind and just when you think it’s over and TORCHE have left the building, they jump back in and smilingly slap you in the face once again. And you will be smiling too! It seems that TORCHE have finally found their unique style. Starting as the successors of underground sludge pioneers FLOOR, they evolved into an outstanding band on their own. A great record by a great band.

The album artwork by John Santos deserves a special mention. In all its craziness, it goes marvellously well with TORCHE’s combination of pop-infected melodies and the too-heavy-for-the-charts riffing. In concrete terms, this means you get cute baby blue monsters, looking like ten-legged ponies with antlers, who carry landscapes on their backs and are happily floating through clouds in a pink sky, getting high on sweets and candy bars, breathing rainbows and are battling their evil purple counterparts who ride into battle, wielding broccoli and carrots. WTF? you will ask yourself, but TORCHE have the answers!

(Steve Albino)