The term Stoner / Sludge is an insult to US quartet Torche and, what’s more, has never even come close to defining them or their blend of crushing backgrounds and soft harmonies. Fifth album Admission (Relapse Records) sees Jonathon Nũnez assume guitarist duties from the departed Andrew Elstner, with Wrong frontman and former Kylesa bassist Eric Hernandez taking over the bass role.
Brief opener ‘From Here’ sees a bulldozing rhythm soon accompanied by dazzling post-Rock lead breaks and Steve Brooks‘ harmonic, spacey vocals. The switch of Nũnez and inclusion of the always-prominent Hernandez has seen a real beefing-up of the band’s sound, so noticeable in the phenomenal might of the ensuing ‘Submission’, a dark monster which still retains those wonderfully contrasting dreamy harmonies and even contains the smallest harmonica break.
The tunes are mostly short, but some live longer in the memory for it. The staccato, tumbling nature of ‘Slide’ gives way to more of those shimmering leads and that lazy, summery vocal, before Nũnez rips a coruscating solo from his machine that seems to cascade through the ages. The minute-and-a-half of ‘What Was’ is a brutal, almost atonal trip through rhythmic battery led by Rick Smith‘s titanic yet oft-overlooked stickwork: while ‘Times Missing’ is much more pensive, a hypnotic swell, fluctuating in strange patterns until the structured expansion of noise helps it all make perfect sense.
The title track, although retaining its heaviness, is a more jaunty skip, almost disguising the quite tragic tale beneath, and here’s the true magic of this band: sleight of hand, the ability to divert while retaining complete involvement. ‘Reminder’ is a throbbing beast, pedal effects creating eerie soundscapes around Brooks’ near-desolate chant and some hulking rhythms: while ‘Extremes of Consciousness’ rattles along, the drifting harmonies complimenting the driving backdrop delightfully. ‘On The Wire’ is a slow, Bluesy trammel that chills the blood as it crawls along, almost insisting that you believe the harmonies here are from another song somewhere in your mind.
Warning; the might of the penultimate ‘Infierno’ will split your skull. Here the message is quite clear: someone is close to burning, and despite Brooks’ ever-laidback delivery it’s a pretty terrifying journey. Closer ‘Changes Come’ is a more upbeat sound: however this again masks a poignancy, an enforced acceptance of loss and change, with truly emotive layered leadwork reflecting both sadness and hope.
Many still believe 2012’s Harmonicraft (Volcom Entertainment) to be the high point in Torche’s career: but there’s a depth here which 2015’s Restarter (Relapse Records) showed glimpses of: a fathomless power in both sound and message that resonates with and moves the listener through euphoria and melancholia, while thoroughly enjoying the ride. Admission is arguably the band’s most accomplished album for some time.
8 / 10