Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Torchure - Beyond the Veil

First, let’s take a moment to stop laughing at the intro track’s classic shitty-spooky synth nonsense with bonus harpsichord silliness for that old haunted castle feeling. Once the muscles in your sides stop aching from laughter, it’s pretty clear right away that Torchure’s 1992 album is actually a decent death/doom metal album in the vein of Asphyx, with maybe slight touches of Samael’s contemporary releases in terms of the guitar tone and riffing. Torchure’s distinctive sound here comes from the thin but sharp-edged guitar tones that rely on the bass to fill the low-end, and everything has the mid-paced even tempo that is a hallmark of this particular vein of metal. While Asphyx’s flavor of death/doom wasn’t the most crowded branch of metal, the less prolific Torchure never rose to anywhere near to the same level of renown or popularity. There’s a good reason for this, “Beyond the Veil” is a passable album, but far from a forgotten gem. Overall, “Beyond the Veil” is a release to check out for people dedicated to this particular style, but otherwise not essential.

“Beyond the Veil” is one of those albums that you listen to and think “cool” but a week later you couldn’t praise a single specific thing about it. Mid-range vocals, mid-paced tempo, even pacing, all end up being more than just sub-genre markers, they are ingredients for forgetability. In this sense, Torchure can’t support the heaviness of their doom inclinations. The tempos are slow for death metal, and here this is too slow because the songs tend to languish on rather than strongly conveying any feeling. So, while overall mood and feel could be called tortured, the primary flavor is simply standard doom/death. Since death and doom metal are both pretty damn cool, and Asphyx is cool, Torchure manages to get through the unremarkable album with only a few hiccups. Even the oh so trite nod to Chopin’s Funeral March on the outro to “Resort to Mortality” is something that you can let slide with only a modest sigh or eye roll, because hey it’s not great but it’s not bad either.

Outside of the intro, two other parts of the album are not excusable. On this particular version, “Mortal at Last” and “Vortex of Thoughts” are “bonus” tracks that take a very liberal view of the word “bonus.” Both are unnecessary reprisals of the intro’s silly synth stuff in what is an obvious attempt at cheap variation and album length padding. It’s like calling a hat an “interlude vertebrae” and claiming that it makes you taller - but nothing real is beyond the veil. Just because a band member owns a keyboard it doesn’t mean that the laundry and paperwork covering it need to be removed so it can be used on the album. “Mortal at Last” at least has a clear display of how powerful vocals don’t necessarily mean screaming your lungs out of your body, but these vocals are really more enjoyable in the context of actual songs.

Despite the intro and these diversions, “Beyond the Veil” still has an overbearing sense of evenness. Although the tempo doesn’t strictly stay the same on the album, it may as well have in many places. Musical changes here are muted and fall into familiar patterns because even when things like tempo or vocals or rhythm change a tad, the overall sound never really varies. Many of the chord progressions stay well into the low range and have little variation between the kinds of chords used. The brooding atmosphere and slower tempos are fine and work in small doses, but become a drain when listening to the album as a whole because of this sameness. As a result, the album is overly long, even without the filler material that absolutely should have been cut.

Problems aside, there is plenty to like here and the moderate flavor also makes for moderate quality. The vocals in particular have really smooth transitions from the main style down to deep gutturals, even changing style within single syllables without any struggle. Some of the longer vocal notes resolve with lower growls, less distorted than the initial attack, creating a sense of power, even as the vocals are releasing the notes. This is a sign of the strength and confidence of someone well acquainted with their own voice, also made clear by the tastefully sparse amount of reverb. The drums similarly show a stripped down confidence and strength, using doublebass as an accent rather than a wall, which is entirely appropriate for the style.

The overall homogeneity leaves little reason to point out parts of the album that are high points (or low points aside from the synth nonsense), but generally the better parts are more varied structurally and rhythmically, which allows the band to let their heavier inclinations shine by using lighter contrasts. To reiterate, this album might be of interest for those into the style, or as a historical note, but Torchure’s music is the kind of stuff that would be more enjoyable as part of a playlist including several bands rather than as an album experience. “Beyond the Veil” is not bad, but it’s nothing special either.

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