Florida has incubated some of metal's heaviest hitters: Deicide, Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, Marilyn Manson. The thing that those bands all have in common, though, is precisely what Miami quartet Torche shuns: an over-the-top shock value designed to horrify mainstream listeners while enticing the genre's most dedicated adherents.
Instead, Steve Brooks, Rick Smith, Jonathan Nuñez and Andrew Elstner are four normal dudes leading relatively normal lives who have always avoided convenient categorization in favor of exploring new avenues of sludge punk, fuzz pop and stoner rock. "We're metal-influenced, but we're not a metal band," Brooks told Spin last February, in the wake of the release of Restarter, Torche's fourth full-length album. "We get in a room and we just write whatever, and the handful of songs we have just come out. Not all of them are heavy or dark, but the majority of them are more aggressive."
Other bands, like Liturgy and Deafheaven, have made similar noise lately, not only for expanding their sonic palettes beyond metal's predefined boundaries but also for turning off longtime supporters with their apparently blatant stab at broader success. But Torche has mostly avoided such venomous infighting, primarily by sticking to their DIY roots – they still tour with a basic van and trailer setup, and they only started sleeping in motel rooms instead of on fans' floors in 2014 – and by consistently releasing material that's both ominous and melodic, heavy and light, gloomy and uplifting. In that way, they've been able to keep hardcore fans satisfied while still attracting new listeners.
Releasing four albums on four different labels has also helped to build a diverse fan base. Torche's self-titled 2004 debut came out on Miami label Robotic Empire, while they moved to Hydra Head for 2008's Meanderthal, which appeared atop numerous year-end Best of Metal lists. Volcom Entertainment released 2012's Harmonicraft, shoring up Torche's sturdy street cred in the still-influential skate and surf worlds. But joining Relapse Records, the premiere metal label in the land, for last year's Restarter provided a reminder that this band was still as influential, as creative and as hard-hitting as ever. As Pitchfork.com said in its glowing review, "After seeming so eager to capitalize on their pop underpinnings in recent years, Torche arrive on Restarter as harsh, heavy and mean as they have been in nearly a decade."
A big reason for Torche's fuck-it-all freedom is their Miami roots, something to which anyone who's grown up in a Florida music scene can testify. Unlike, say, a metal band from California, where decades of tradition can provide a blueprint and a stranglehold, the humid, kaleidoscopic scene that Torche emerged from had no rules. No proven pathways to success. No purist infighting. No impediments to self-exploration.
"People tend to work harder here," Nuñez told Stereogum in February. "It takes a lot to get out of the state and get noticed. Bands from here have to push it because we're cut off. ... Being cut off, you work extra hard and try to put a signature on your sound. And when you do that, it radiates."
That might be the fairest assessment of Torche: No matter what label they release their music on, or what kind of internal battles they fight (founding guitarist Juan Montoya left the band in 2008 under conditions no one in the band discusses much to this day), they always sound like no one but themselves.
In the uniformly loud and fast heavy metal hemisphere, that's always a challenge – double it if you're from Florida. Even though Rick Smith is the only Torche member still living in Miami – Elstner currently lives in Atlanta, where Brooks spent five years before decamping to San Francisco, while Nuñez moved his Pinecrust Studios operation to Gainesville in 2015 – the Sunshine State still scores through Torche's veins.
"You can hear [it] in our bass and the guitars, which are like beams of sunlight," Nuñez told Stereogum. "You can hear that we're not from LA or Chicago. We're not from anywhere but here. Florida is crazy as hell, but there's an energy here. And some musicians are able to hone in on that."