For just about a decade now, Torche has more or less locked down the dubious title of World's Heaviest Band. Hard to blame it, really. Torche is its own trip. The proudly down-tuned outfit packs the same percussive wallop as sludge titans Mastodon and Neurosis, sure, but it also finds room for the pop songcraft and melodic vocals of heavier alternative acts like Nirvana and Failure. Though thoroughly crushing, the band's music defiantly retains a sunnier disposition and a lot more heart than that some of its hairier contemporaries.
That dichotomy has never played better than on Torche's new album, Restarter. After the upbeat and tightly choreographed Harmonicraft raised the band's profile outside of the heavy-rock underground three years ago, Torche has returned with a darker and more wizened product. It's the group's most well-rounded effort yet, wedding a weighty crunch to its poppier sensibilities.
It's the kind of record that requires a good subwoofer or a great set of headphones to properly enjoy -- particularly when it comes to the rich, fuzzy tone of bassist Jon Nunez. The ten tracks of Restarter have a jammy, lived-in feel, though the songs were hashed out rather quickly in the studio.
"We're generally pressed for time because none of us live in the same place," the bassist says. "So when we get together, we typically have seven to ten days to write as much as we can, and then we leave on a tour, or everyone goes back home to reconvene at another time. This record was written in about two and a half weeks. It's definitely the fastest-put-together record we've ever done."
The members of Torche were mindful that they'd be playing these tunes while on tour for at least the next couple of years, and so the elements that have given the band its crossover appeal are intact, from the thunderous High On Fire roar of "Barrier Hammer" to the soaring, Jimmy Eat World vocals on "Loose Men." Predictably, Nunez can't wait to show them off.
"The majority of this stuff is definitely a bit slower, heavier, darker -- especially compared to Harmonicraft," he says. "There are certain songs that you look forward to doing live, whether it's the heavy one or the slightly more upbeat one. Personally, the ones I'd have to say I'm most excited about right now would be 'Annihilation Affair' and 'Loose Men.' But I'm looking forward to playing all of them. It's a brand-new, fresh record!"
Restarter sees Torche trying out some new ideas, such as trusting Nunez with production duties. While the album was mixed by in-demand knob-twiddler Kurt Ballou, the bulk of the album was recorded and produced at Nunez's home studio in Miami. Though the production credit might be a new look for the bassist, it's hardly the first time he has taken an active role in reproducing the group's sound on wax.
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"Everything that we've done, I think it's safe to say I've been very heavy-handed along the way," Nunez says. "I don't know; I can't help it. It's not like some sort of control thing. I just want it to sound as close to our live sound as possible. I know what our sound's like. I know what feels comfortable for us. I just want the record to be what it should be, what we all picture in our minds."
The band found an interesting partner in bringing that picture into focus: Restarter's on new record label. Relapse Records may be better known for putting out discs by outrageously extreme acts like Pig Destroyer and Exhumed, but Nunez says that the label offered Torche a vision that matched their own.
"It definitely doesn't hurt that they're genuine fans of the band," he says. "Even before we officially signed with them, I realized, 'OK, these guys are just like us. They're music fanatics!' From the artwork and packaging to the sound, just all of it. There's a certain energy and excitement in working with them, almost like hanging out with your friends just going into high school and discovering stuff. They're a very open-minded label, and it just feels right."
With a fresh batch of tunes already invading stereos around the world, Torche is happy to reconvene and get back to its natural environment: the road. Trips across the U.S. and Europe are already booked. And once this year's cycle concludes, it will start all over again.
"We've been sitting on this record for a year, so we're ready," Nunez says. "We're ready to hit the road and play these songs live and do what we're used to doing. It's what keeps us going, and what keeps us inspired to do the next one. Which -- give or take a few parts -- we're already three or four songs into the next one already."
Torche 8 p.m. Friday, March 13. The Firebird, 2706 Olive Street. $15. 314-535-0353.
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