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Every day most people get asked a bunch of pretty annoying questions, such as "Do you need a flexible short-term loan?" or "Would you like fries with that?" or "Are you listening to me?" One of the questions that more people should really be asking is, "What happened to Blo.Torch?" Because these Dutch guys, aside from having a slightly annoying name, made some really interesting music over a seemingly embattled decade, eventually producing just two albums before deciding to call it a day. I haven't heard the other full-length, Volatile, although it would seem that the band cut away some of the long structures and experimentation for that release, so it might be worth tracking down. For me, an online rifle through Earache's sale got me this for just a couple of pounds, though I would be surprised if the label had many left now. Nevertheless, if you manage to get your ears on this self-titled effort, you will definitely hear something familiar, but you will also hear a lot that you didn't bargain for, mostly in a very positive way.
Firstly, trying to place Blo.Torch in 1999's confused musical world is not too tough. One can hear quite a strong influence from the quickly saturating Gothenburg melodeath scene, more in the vein of At the Gates or Dark Tranquillity than In Flames, while Arch Enemy is given as an influence by the band themselves, yet sounds a little way out on a song like 'King of Karnage' despite the similar dark guitar tone and frequent slower passages. However, this doesn't really play out like any of those bands, opting for a stronger riffing attack that has roots in thrash in the same way that Dew-Scented or Hatesphere do, even if the melodies play a bigger role than those more straightahead units. As such, it's slightly confusing trying to keep track of the ideas on display, especially since Blo.Torch are happy to extend songs beyond five minutes and twice exceed eight minutes towards the end of the album. Nothing is very simple, verses multiplying like flies and the lyrics meshing everything up in even more layers, since they rarely settle for the normal, plus there are the twists and turns of melodies and rhythms.
The lyrical content needs its own assessment, since I don't remember anyone else doing this kind of modern poetic nihilism with quite such insight and effect. Just to give a vague idea, 'Panzerstorm' opens with a sample (I'm guessing not from a feature film) that runs, "Ooh yeah, like, stick that hard dick right up my fucking ass" and there's a similar pornographic excerpt in 'March of the Worm'. The actual content of the songs is sometimes obsessed with the same sick depths that we found on The Haunted's rEVOLVEr and delivered with the same vitriolic fervour, barring a few cleaner, almost gothic, interjections. On the sick side, we have the following trio: "Sink your nails into my face and keep on peeling until you find me. Let us celebrate our intestinal love." ('Mount Ygman') "With the power to inflict pain on none but my own. Like fangs sinking into tender virgin flesh." ('Quatrain') "Kiss me once, kiss me twice. Kiss my cock and suck my cum like wine." ('March of the Worm') Then sometimes there is surprising poetry, such as the "Caterpillar sunshine" from 'Panzerstorm' or "A cyanide kiss on the burning roses of evermore" in 'Seem to Be the Enemy'. Even if it isn't your cup of tea, these kind of hyperreal/surreal images certainly give the album a shot of intensity.
As for the actual music, you'll be glad that for a melodeath album averaging almost 6 minutes per song there are plenty of changes of pace and variations in attack. There are high velocity parts in almost every song, although the most charged numbers must be 'Panzerstorm', 'Spanish Sun', and 'March of the Worm'. The riffs come raining down in the majority of songs, just faster in these three, and while one might expect 'King of Karnage' to batter the listener with savagery Blo.Torch actually do a good line in crushing slow melodic death, which returns for a climactic finale in 'Bloodstains'. The nicer vocals in the chorus to 'King of Karnage' could be looked upon as a mistake (the female vocals certainly are) and let the remarkable insanity of the harsh vocals slip, but the guitarists do enough to build atmosphere, usually playing twin patterns that move in the same direction at higher and lower pitch, or occasionally move against one another to create an unsettling effect. The melodies are almost omnipresent, even on the more attacking tracks, informing many of the riffs with edges that are neither bereft of hooks or heaviness. Solos are not as frequent as is often associated with the genres that Blo.Torch straddle, though most songs get one in some form or other, while the melodies prevent the riffs becoming too repetitive.
The rhythm players also deserve some attention, since Sander Koole on fretless bass might well be the busiest bandmember and occupies a prominent place in the mix, so that all his contributions can be heard. He is definitely not content to bed down and be supportive either, wobbling off on a semi-lead of his own during the solo in 'Spanish Sun' and tainting the spacious opening of 'Bloodstains' with grimy atmospheres, as well as playing generally higher than other bassists during breathing spaces in other songs, meaning that one always has something else to pay attention to. As has become the custom in this genre, the drums are handled tactfully, resorting to very few actual blastbeats in order to match the melodic aspect of the music, while usually remaining frantically busy on other parts of the kit to balance the pace and ferocity. A few of the transitions are really something, such as the badass repeated intro to 'Panzerstorm', the odd tinkly fill that leads into the billowing riff early in 'Quatrain', and the swift change-up in 'Spanish Sun'.
I find this album slightly overloaded with ideas at a bloated 53 minutes, especially considering the length of songs, although thankfully its overloaded with good ideas, so I'm not complaining too much. The songs would generally have benefitted from a trimming that could have cut them down to five minutes or less, barring 'Bloodstains', which does work as an epic closer. However, that doesn't mean that every song equally deserves its place here. 'Seem to Be the Enemy' is somewhat of an oddball, following a slowish path to catchiness that would have done better if it actually had any catchy vocals or changes of pace to attract the attention, plus 'King of Karnage' needs bigger balls to attempt that inserted K in the title. With 'Quatrain', the length becomes a slight problem, though the song is anything but bad, even when it turns into a moody gothic song at its close, with baritone vocals and the strong bass presence transforming the atmosphere. My call for best probably goes out to those three I said were heaviest in addition to 'Bloodstains', which nails the mood that the band were aiming for all along.
Blo.Torch isn't exactly a perfect album, yet it does try to shirk some obvious genre restrictions and digs deeper into the lyrical barrel than many other have, almost scraping the bottom of life's experiences. Most of the songs are great fun to thrash along to as well, so it's disappointing that these guys didn't extend their career to any great lengths. Give it a few spins and let the riffs sink in.
A band deemed as underrated by dutch deathmetallers Altar. And if any band should be considered experts on brutal agression in music, it's Altar. And I can't say I got dissapointed on their recommendation.
But when reviewing this review, I could say two things that would seriously belie this band's quality.
First is making the comparison to melodic death, commonly from Sweden and one city in particular. The music Blo.Torch makes is indeed describable as 'melodic death' (or in this case rather melodic 'death/thrash'), and Blo.Torch even hails Arch Enemy as the original masters in their thanks-list; but their music also stands miles above anything gothenburg. There's no drab rehashed ideas here. It has the familiar elements of twin guitar destruction (although I wouldn't typify them as buzzsaw guitars), alternating between almost percussive melody and groovy thrash riffs, a general up-temponess, and the harsh screams that go with it. But it also has a lot calmer, more held back passages; and the harsh screams are alternated with clean vocals and even low grunts.
Another thing I could say that would make people think this band isn't much while it definitely is, is that the underlieing emotions are agression and a form of angst. This immediatly summons up associations with with the forced mono-emotionalism of modern day crap music. Far from it, Blo.Torch seems to display agression following from frustration, not from failing to cope with modern day society, but from (personal?) dealings with relationships, friends and the sorts. Instead of a bland 'shout at society', this music not only seems more 'real', but is also a lot more varied.
Letting go of the comparisons, I can say Blo.Torch knows how to make good agressive music. This is the kind of music I like to listen to when I don't want to be disturbed. I can listen to this in the background, superficially listening to the brutal guitar riffs (the death metal aspect), or I can listen to this attentively, as there's a lot happening in each song. The latter would be the thrash-metal aspect, with the guitars mingling with eachother to create a rich texture, and almost below the surface you can hear the pretty interesting bassguitar-work (according to the booklet a fretless bass). And although the guitars don't relent much in the calmer passages, they're nice for the variation.