Torche @ The Grand Social Loft | Live Review

Torche + Wizards Of Firetop Mountain + Dott @ The Grand Social Loft
21 August 2013 – Dublin, Ireland

Five years have passed since Miami, Florida’s Torche last dropped their anvil-heavy pop songs upon Irish heads. Whelans provided the setting and Torche made their appearance in support of instrumental post-metallers Pelican, and although they only had limited time to show what they could do, they left an indelible impression. This is why Torche’s long-awaited return to Dublin is not an occasion to be missed by those who caught the band live half a decade ago, nor is it an occasion to be missed by those who have since discovered the genius of Torche’s music. The Grand Social, positioned next to the famous Ha’Penny Bridge, is the host tonight and Torche may be the heaviest band to ever play at this venue which has the reputation for showcasing an eclectic array of artists across music’s multihued spectrum. The venue itself is situated upstairs in this hip bar and is festooned like the inside of a festival tent or a function room used for parties (appropriate when it comes to Torche), with light bulbs strategically placed along the ceiling to illuminate the crowd and the small stage.

Opening for Torche tonight are Dott and Wizards of Firetop Mountain; two native bands looking to get their name and music out there. Galway’s Dott have a hint of The Breeders about their ‘90s inspired alt. rock, but because of sound akin to a bass amp committing suicide, their sugary vocal harmonies are lost in the unnecessary rumble. Wizards of Firetop Mountain are no strangers to the Dublin support role over the years; most recently seen in support of Red Fang. The band play a similar set again tonight and there are moments where their bar-room doom ‘n’ NWOBHM entertain (“Fire and Stone” and “Sonic War”), but besides guitarist Hooly (who is a dead ringer for a young Brian Tatler of Diamond Head) and drummer Ror, the band rarely show any passion on stage. Vocalist Dunchee is by far the band’s weakest link, as his vocals are just not strong enough. In addition to this, the melodies he favours are too predictable and it takes until two songs from the end for him to loosen up and enjoy himself – an ailment that he seems to constantly suffer from. order to really experience what this band is all about you really need to stand in front of the stage and be hit around the head and lungs by the rush of riffs pouring out of the band’s Orange Amps at a tsunami-like velocity.

Words like “enjoyable” and “fun” are often flung around when describing Torche’s music and live show; both of which are normally regarded as an insult when applied to music of the down-tuned variety. But Torche embrace fun just as much as they embrace thunderous rhythms and riffs big enough to build an empire on, and tonight the band’s collision of polar opposites attract a sizeable crowd for a midweek show.

On record Torche’s sheer force is only hinted at, and in order to really experience what this band is all about you really need to stand in front of the stage and be hit around the head and lungs by the rush of riffs pouring out of the band’s Orange Amps at a tsunami-like velocity. From the moment Steve Brooks (vocals, guitars) implores the crowd to “come closer” in a comical evil voice before adding the caveat, “we bite”, Torche have every patron in the palm of their sweaty hands. Adrenaline spiking renditions of “Kicking” and "In Pieces" receive a warm reception early on; the crowd obviously very familiar with the band’s latest critically acclaimed album, ‘Harmonicraft’. While the up-beat grooves of “Grenades” get necks flapping and “Snakes are Charmed" – referred to by Brooks as the band’s “disco song” – sets hips slithering. Both Brooks and fellow guitarist Andrew Elstner share vocals duties and considering the quaking bottom-end that bassist Jonathan Nuñez pulls from his instrument as he straddles centre stage, their melodious tag-team vocal approach (at its best during "Across the Shields") is surprisingly audible and clear – even when the sound goes through muddy patches.

Aside from Brooks’ whiskey-fuelled quips (which are funny as hell), it is drummer Rick Smith who provides the focal point in terms of eye-popping stage performance. Seated bear-like behind Nuñez and wearing nothing but boxer shorts and a beard, Smith is a terrifying rhythmic force. He adds such weight to each seismic riff and the sight of him swinging his sizeable arms and connecting with the might of a lumberjack as the wood splinters and sprays off his drumsticks is quite remarkable. Torche deliver an insidious set tonight; in that, the four-piece become deafening as the infamous “bomb-string” makes a head-rattling, floor-shaking appearance near the end. By tuning down to the extent that the guitar string flaps like a pensioner’s bingo wing, the impact on the ears from this gimmicky yet physically overwhelming sonic is colossal, especially during “Charge of the Brown Recluse” and the encore of “Mentor”; two of the songs played off Torche’s 2005 self-titled full-length debut.

After the show when leaving to check whether the Ha’Penny Bridge survived the dreaded “bomb”, this scribe overheard one satisfied reveller ask another, “Do Torche ever play a bad show?” Possibly the best compliment that could be afforded to Torche came with the response given – “Do they fuck!” After the embrace of melody and heft tonight, Scratch the Surface has to agree with this eloquent reply. (8.5/10)

Photos by Rachel Connolly

Dean Brown is a metal scribe based in Ireland. He is currently a contributing editor to the North American cultural magazine Popmatters and he regularly throws words for a number of other reputable loud noise publications such as metal,,,, amongst others. He has a strong affinity for music that shakes souls and leaves debilitating tinnitus in its wake and such obsession has left him financially and medically crippled, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. Follow Dean on twitter @reus85