It’s funny how certain combinations of genre, geography and cover art can indicate that you’ll enjoy the music. Take our boy Mark Z. If it’s blackened thrash from South America with a cover that adds religious blasphemy to a military tableau, he’ll club a dozen baby seals to get his hands on it. If you wish to summon a Muppet, dangle from your eaves some black metal from north of the 45th Parallel featuring visuals of a solitary figure and/or stag standing in a misty forest, but take care to lock up your children and/or weed. I have my own boxes to check as I look for the next Cherd friendly album, so when patterns emerge, I take note. Recent positive experiences with doomy, noise tinged post-metal from the United Kingdom packaged in black and white cover art, namely Sūrya and Bismuth, led me to take a chance on Torpor‘s Rhetoric of the Image. Will the sophomore effort from this three-piece keep the hitting streak alive?
I’m happy to report that Rhetoric of the Image is indeed another confirmation of the formula, although it’s not without flaws. Torpor‘s post-metal is an angular take on the foundation laid by the usual suspects—Neur–Isis—with a penchant for minimal arrangements and maximal impact. There are two types of songs alternating through Rhetoric of the Image: tracks one, three and five are ten-plus-minute exercises in terse riff cycles mixed with long stretches of clean guitar lines, while tracks two and four are shorter and more experimental in nature, dispensing with riffs altogether and balancing tense repetition with overt beauty. It’s these two tracks, “Two Heads on Gold” and “Mouths Full of Water, Throats Full of Ice,” that turned my head most.
It’s not that the other songs are bad; in fact, they’re quite good. “Benign Circle” alternates between sludgy riffs and clean guitars that hypnotize with repetition until the 7:40 mark when a monumental riff erupts like a sheer rock cliff in the sonic landscape, guitarist Jon Taylor’s hash vocals holding court throughout. The (potential) problem is that each of the three long songs pull out the same stops, making them more or less interchangeable. As each subsequent song grows from 11 to 13 to 16 minutes, this uniformity takes its toll. This is one reason the shorter, more experimental tracks are so refreshing, although they also stand on their own merits. “Two Heads On Gold” builds fuzzed-out distortion over slowly repeating drum strikes as bassist Lauren Mason’s spoken-word piece melts into simple but pretty electronics near the song’s end. “Mouths…” again features Mason, although this time she sings over gentle instrumentation that proves Torpor can crush with a light touch as much as with mammoth riffs.
I’m not usually one to directly tell a band what I think they could do to improve in future releases. It’s enough to point out what does and does not work and let them take it from there, should they even read my thoughts in the first place. But each time I listen to Rhetoric of the Image, I can’t help but think Torpor would reach a different level if they integrated the shorter experimental tracks directly into the lumbering post-metal slug-fests rather than keeping them separate. It’s like that early 80s commercial where a man is walking down the street enjoying a chocolate bar, and a woman comes around the corner scarfing peanut butter directly from the jar and they collide and the man is all “You got peanut butter in my chocolate,” and the woman slurs through peanut butter mouth “You got chocolate in my peanut butter,” and they snarl and tensely circle each other until a snake moves in the grass and each lunges at the other like a gladiator fighting in their final bout before a merciful Caesar grants them freedom should they survive and chocolate and peanut butter are flying everywhere mixing with sweat and blood and the two writhe as one violent mass until the gooey combination works its way into both their mouths and suddenly their rage gives way to surprised passion and they’re making out instead of fighting, though no less violently. This would keep the longer compositions from becoming overly familiar while in no way diminishing the unexpected soundscapes.
Rhetoric of the Image is a solid slab of sludgy post-metal with exciting dips into experimental noise that Torpor would do well to expand upon. They do big, hypnotic riffs with aplomb, but rely a bit too heavily on them when they clearly have other weapons in their arsenal. I’m marking this as another positive experience with British post-metal sporting black and white cover art, and I’ll be watching the promo pit accordingly.
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Sludgelord Records | Moment of Collapse Records | Medusa Crush Recordings
Websites: torpornoise.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/torporsound
Releases Worldwide: September 20th, 2019