For as long as he's been openly gay, Torche mainman Steve Brooks has been held up by lazy music journalists as a kind of standard for what it means to be homosexual in underground metal.
If the unicorns-vomiting-rainbows cover of the masterful Harmonicraft and its Side-B centerpiece "Kiss Me Dudely" are any indication, he's noticed, and now he's just fucking with us.
The soundbite culture of rock criticism notwithstanding, Torche has never been a band too concerned with sexual politics — or any politics, for that matter. After a stint fronting seminal '90s stoners Floor, Brooks formed Torche as a way to channel his urge to make what he calls "thunder pop," a faux-genre carved from all of Black Sabbath's heaviness but none of its darkness. The lyrics are often obscured, rarely important and always subservient to the dual powers of melody and force.
Harmonicraft is the Miami quartet's third full-length, and it represents the best execution of the thunder pop aesthetic to date. Each song is propelled by a hook more infectious than the last, Brooks and bandmates Rick Smith, Jonathan Nuñez and Andrew Elstner having at last found the perfect formula for providing pure pop goodness without sacrificing an ounce of crushing power. Even at the peak of Queens of the Stone Age's popularity, Josh Homme never had it figured out quite like this.
Although this record is arguably just the sound of Brooks and Co. refining everything they've already done, it's set apart by the strength of its songs. Whereas even the best tracks on 2008's Meanderthal and 2010's Songs for Singles often felt incomplete, every cut on Harmonicraft is fully realized.
Take "Kicking," the album's lead single, which manages to sound epic in just over 150 seconds of runtime. Brooks isn't merely writing great riffs and hooks anymore; he's figuring out how to let them breathe. "Kicking" is a triumphant statement of purpose, woven together with bridges and choruses and anchored by a confidence that was lacking from previous releases.
Torche's influence has already started to seep into the mainstream in the form of thunder pop offerings by heavy hitters like Mastodon ("Blasteroid") and Baroness ("Jake Leg"). Harmonicraft is good enough to cause an all-out plagiaristic explosion.