Torche explores hurt, searches for hope on 'Admission'

Andy Downing

Throughout Torche’s excellent new full-length, Admission (Relapse Records), frontman Steve Brooks appears to survey life from the gutter.

“I can’t hold my head up off the ground,” he sings amid “On the Wire,” a hefty, sludgy number built on guitars that move with the speed and grace of cement mixers. Elsewhere, songs appear to center on heartbreak (“I will pretend/I don’t need to love again,” Brooks offers on the title track) or on finding a way back to the surface. “Where am I to go?” he sings on the album opener, then answers his own question: “Up from here.”

In the past, Brooks has referred to his lyrics as “nonsense.” This time around, he was at least willing to admit that certain songs do contain more pointed references — “Sometimes I have to get things off my chest and that came through with this record,” he said — though he’s loath to offer specifics, preferring to let listeners take whatever meaning they might need from the record.

“Certain lines will mean something to me, personally, but I like to keep it kind of vague so everyone can interpret it the way they want to,” said Brooks, who will join Torche in opening for Baroness at Newport Music Hall on Friday, July 19. “I basically write for myself and the band.”

While the singer at times sounds shattered on Admisson, the music itself moves with chest-out confidence. This remains true whether the band is stampeding with the collective force of Thanos’ army (the aptly fiery “Infierno”) or gliding gracefully on sci-fi-ish tracks like the sleek “Admission,” which stands among the best songs in Torche’s catalog.

Coming off the impressively heavy Restarter, from 2015, Brooks said the band wanted to continue to evolve, exploring new wrinkles in its ever-shifting sound. As a result, the songs populating Admission allow in a bit more air, mixing metal, alt-rock and the fuzzy squall of shoegaze with everything from new wave to the heavy stomp of vintage Black Sabbath — a prime early inspiration for Brooks, along with acts like AC/DC and Kiss, who he said existed as “superheroes” when he was a youngster.

Brooks said he gravitated toward the heavier end of the spectrum at an early age because of the mysterious force the music appeared to carry.

“I guess it was the raw power of it all,” said Brooks, who also noted the early influence of the Beatles, which exhibits itself in the melodic hooks that grace even Torche’s gnarliest songs. “It was different and scary — something you don’t hear on the radio — and that excited me.”

A lineup shift within the band helped draw further musical distinction this time around, with Eric Hernandez of noise-rock band Wrong stepping in on bass, joining Brooks, drummer Rick Smith and longtime bassist Jonathan Nunez, who took over on guitar for the departed Andrew Elstner.

“We were the most inspired we’d been in a long time making this record,” Brooks said. “It came together naturally. … We’re in a good place right now, and it’s just going to keep moving forward for us.”

If only Brooks had the same optimism for the state of the country.

In 2015, Red Bull published an interview with Brooks under the subhead “How doom metallers Torche overcame homophobia in rock,” which seems outdated just four years later as the LGBTQ community fights to maintain recent human rights advances while living under the auspices of an administration that wants to strip them away.

“It’s terrible. The most ignorant people have a voice now, so people are feeling empowered to be bigots because of the administration, because of the president, who acts more like a child than a leader,” said Brooks, who is gay. “I honestly thought we were heading in a progressive direction, and then all of a sudden we’re not. … Now we have to fight for equality for everyone again.”

So where are we to go? Up from here, hopefully.

Newport Music Hall

7 p.m. Friday, July 19

1722 N. High St., Campus