Torche’s colorful ‘Harmonicraft’ is more fun than any human can possibly handle

It’s always nice seeing a person you haven’t seen in a while. Unless you hate that person. Then it kind of sucks, especially if that person doesn’t know of your distaste and tries to engage you in conversation. Uncomfortable. But back to people you don’t hate, it’s nice crossing paths isn’t it? Unless they hate you, and you have no idea. Maybe to be safe, don’t talk to anyone you haven’t seen in a long time just in case you hate the person or the person secretly hates you. We’ll all be much safer under that plan.

OK, for argument’s sake, let’s pretend the person you encounter for the first time in a while is someone you do not hate and/or who does not despise you. After spending some time with the person and playing catch-up, isn’t it odd that changes we find in the lady or fellow? Time does that. We shape and shift, develop or regress, become different forms of what we once were. Our experiences, mutating likes and dislikes, and simple life events change us, and it would be silly to run into the same person every few years and expect the exact same experience. Unless that person is Angus Young.

What I’m on about is Torche and their new album “Harmonicraft.” On the surface, it’s Torche. It’s pretty hard not to recognize them when you first hear their peppy metal, as they have sort of carved out a sound that’s all their own. And partially the Foo Fighters’. But mostly theirs. Plus, the Foo Fighters have bored the shit out of me for years, while Torche never do that. I’m getting a call from the Grammy Awards, who are very upset I just said that about an annually nominated band. Sorry, old white guys. But Torche. I like that they’re familiar, and their third record is that very much. It instantly made me happy because I like Torche — vocalist/guitarist Steve Brooks, guitarist Andrew Elstner, bassist Jonathan Nunez, drummer Rick Smith — and their sound, and unlike most bands I write about, they make me smile in a fun way. They’re a good time. I saw them live, and I was so glad I was drunk when I did because it made them even more amazing. I’m loose-spending when I’m drinking, and when they were done, I traded a bunch of money for T-shirts. I soberly stand by that decision.

But something I noticed on “Harmonicraft” are the changes that have taken place between their 2008 full-length “Meanderthal,” one of my favorite albums of the last decade, and this new one. I’d even say there are some differences from their 2010 stop-gap EP “Songs for Singles.” Dude, so much has been altered since their 2005 self-titled review that, if you haven’t kept up with the band, you’ll need something of a history lesson. So go and listen to everything you missed and come back. We won’t wait, but we won’t delete the rest of the text. That’s how the Internet works sometimes.

Many point to the departure of guitarist Juan Montoya as a major reason behind Torche’s current persona, but I wonder about that assertion. First, Montoya went on to form MonstrO, a band with a really generic singer. Montoya didn’t exactly become a guitar god there, nor did he whip out anything resembling “look what those Torche bastards will miss” type of riffs and melodies. I don’t even remember anything from the MonstrO record, so impression totally not registered. Second, Torche have been moving toward poppier, more accessible rock and metal for some time now, so these gradual changes in their musical personalities should not be all that surprising. Like I’ve already heard that next Baroness album is pretty much devoid of metal. Totally not surprised. They’ve been headed that way for a while. Can’t wait to hear it, by the way.

So yeah, if you’re expecting doomy, sludgy Torche on “Harmonicraft,” you won’t find what you anticipate. If you demand that sound from the band, you’ll be disappointed. But if you like what the band did in their lighter moments on “Meanderthal” and “Songs,” there’s no reason to think you won’t like this record. Lack of true, decibolic metal aside, these songs are pretty catchy. It still sounds like Torche, albeit a more refined, more polished version. This should surprise and offend no one. Career path, kids. Learn how to follow one.

One thing Torche has not abandoned is their ability to stuff a bunch of songs in the front and back end of their albums that all seem to gel together and topple into each other. That may be a negative for some, as some of the stuff does tend to blur together, but I like how seamlessly these songs are interconnected and that I can just get caught up in the energy of it all. “Letting Go,” “Kicking,” and punk-flavored “Walk It Off” have basically the same attitude and semblance or order, and before you know it, you’re knee deep into the record. On the other side, heavy “Skin Moth,” the killer instrumental title track and … drum roll for the greatest song title of the year so far … “Kiss Me Dudely” also work in tandem and bring you almost to the album’s conclusion. Worked into the closing package are a couple of pace-changers, notably the dreamy gaze of “Solitary Traveler,” one of the more unique songs in their canon, and the doom-encrusted, noise-simmering closer “Looking On,” where you finally get that metal fix you’ve been whining about.

Sprinkled throughout the record are a few songs that let you check out some of the cool stuff they picked up since you last saw Torche. “Reverse Inverted” has a tasty little Southern rock groove that slithers beneath everything; “Snakes Are Charmed” lets the guys kick out some sugary guitar goodness and licks that would sound cool over the opening screen of a colorful, seizure-inducing videogame; “Roaming” is the band as their pop-metal best, busting out a song that could go out to your rock radio stations and slip into the playlist without anyone having a stroke over it. Torche deserve that slot.

So yeah, Torche aren’t the same band you knew a few years ago. They changed some stuff, they got a little slicker, the buffed up some edges, and they got tighter as a unit. If you wanted to cuff them and make them stay the same people, then you’re a horrible person who belongs in an internment camp. I’m not even joking. “Harmonicraft” is a blast, and it’s great to hear the guys in such high spirits. Now, if we can just have less of a wait between albums, or am I being an asshole?

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