Torche lost of a bit of goodwill with me on the last album, Harmonicraft. They'd always had a knack for melody, sure, but their trajectory from a catchy stoner rock outfit to a respectable Helmet knockoff to a fuzzy power pop ensemble was not what I had envisioned for their until then upwardly mobile career path. Let's put it this way: I enjoyed last year's comeback of guitarist/vocalist Steve Brooks' former project Floor just that much more.
Of course, bands are under no edict to mind the whimsies of their fan base – who never agree from one guy to the next anyway – and, to be clear here, I'm not one of those guys that automatically bitch when my favorite acts change their sound… but not every attempt at a makeover is going to be equally as compelling whether an apples to apples comparison to the band's former sound is applicable or not (we'll call this the Dave Mustaine Effect). My take on Harmonicraft had less to do with objecting to its style and more to do with the execution just not being as gripping as the previous work. Dave Mustaine is a thrash legend; his takes on more commercial forms of hard rock often find him falling well short of legendary.
And so, considering how well received Harmonicraft was, imagine my surprise when I queued up this year's Restarter (insert tired joke about how apt that title is) and received the shot to the gut that is "Annihilation Affair", a sludge-informed romp that comes off like the boisterous love child of YOB and ZZ Top. The vocals remain on the slicker side of 90's hardcore-slash-alt-metal, a loose triangulation of Page Hamilton, Tommy Victor and maybe, I don't know, Dave Wyndorf. It's a familiar drawl, to be sure, but one inflected enough with myriad nuances that it's hard to pin down entirely.
"Undone" is the most Helmet-like song on the album, not least of which for its deja vu title, but while individual tracks seem to invite direct comparisons (ie. "Blasted" reminds me of an amped up Big Wreck) the genius of Restarter is that it not only shows a cohesive affinity to a number of musical styles – nearly all of them unapologetically catchy – the quality of songwriting transcends those influences to become a sort of neo-torch bearer for those sounds of yore.
"Bishop in Arms" fuses a mid-period U2 riff with a pounding, Bonham-esque drum roll (the kind Dave Grohl likes to emulate) while somehow managing to sound thoroughly modern at the same time. Lead single "Minions" is the most captivating song on the album, Prong meets post-grunge in a riff showcase for the ages. It probably sounds reductionist to boil comparisons down to relatively commercial 90's hard rock/metal acts, but truly Restarter acts as about an excellent a summation of that era's catchiest guitar rock as you're gonna hear. The fact that most of these songs succeed in one-upping the very classics you grew up listening to is all the more impressive.