Crack Rock: Torche and Kvelertak Get Philly Hopped Up on the Heavy

I pig out on Torche with the regularity of a casual drug habit.


Back on the road in support of 2015’s grower-not-a-shower Restarter, Torche delivered the goods at Philadelphia’s Underground Arts with a heaping spoonful of the candy-coated thunder pop they’ve been pedaling for the last 10-plus years.


After tuning down their instruments, Torche kicked off their 45-minute set, immediately rendering openers Wild Throne a distant memory. (I was more interested in this neat little throne sitting in the hallway near the merch table than I was in the trio’s aimless songs.)


Have a seat


As the band pulled from Meanderthal, Harmonicraft, Restarter, and In Return, Brooks—looking like a young Jeff Lynne these days (sans aviator shades, sadly)—was all grins and tongue wags as his orgasmic riffage poured from towers of Marshall and Orange amplifiers. While second guitarist Andrew Elstner was content to stand in place, Brooks would occasionally burst to the edge of the stage to mingle with the hoi polloi. Watching a 40-something dude from Miami, FL, acting like a wild teen showing off on his guitar certainly was an inspiring sight to those of us who have just been booted from the 18-34 demographic by Father Time. But my grey hairs and I digress.


"He said 'thunder pop'"
Rick Smith and Steve Brooks of Torche

Does drummer Rick Smith know that he has murder eyes when he’s behind his kit? It’s a little unnerving when you’re standing in his sightline, but like his bandmates, he’s clearly getting high on his own supply, albeit in a way that requires steely-eyed concentration and smacking the crap out of the hi-hat on “Minions.”


Dropping his head more often than Mike Evans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drops passes, Jonathan Nuñez twisted his shoulders—and his low-slung bass—in time with his band’s wonderful racket, of which he is such a crucial part. With his lanky frame and bald head, he resembled a very happy worm as he moved along to “Kicking,” “Loose Men,” and “Grenades,” all catchy little ditties that would be right at home on FM radio. Instead, Disturbed is a legitimate band.


Elstner, Nuñez, and Smith of Torche

Big news, people: Torche is playing new songs. The two that they demo’ed for us were upbeat, and when they ended, Smith and Brooks smiled and nodded at each other, clearly as satisfied with the new tunes as the cheering crowd. We know, guys, you can do no wrong—except withhold new music from us. So please stop doing that and record something new already. I’m starting to get the shakes over here.


As the ceremonial leveling of the place ended with “Barrier Hammer” and the stupefying “Harmonslaught,” the E strings on the guitars flopped in sloppy unison, and we were left milling about in something like a post-coital daze.


Pushing brain candy, dropping aural glitter bombs, throwing psychedelic lava storms—Torche’s magical mixtures always leave me floating in a cloud of life-affirming, eye-crossing bliss. May The Torche Distribution Center never run out of stock.


Got You in a Kvelertak, Baby


Srsly, shirts is dumb
“Death to men’s torso-based textiles!” (Photo of Kvelertak: Brian Rambo)

I can’t help but think of TV shows Jackass and Wildboyz when I hear Norway’s Kvelertak. With their boisterous and occasionally irritating blend of 70s rock, traditional metal, latter-day punk, and black metal, Kvelertak (Norwegian for “stranglehold”) would have served as the perfect soundtrack—alongside Turbonegro and Andrew WK—to those clips of bone-smashing parking lot shenanigans and animal-provoking antics. This band is pretty wild, fam.


When vocalist Erlend Hjelvik took to the stage wearing a light-up owl mask, I simultaneously grinned and rolled my eyes. Was this just the first of a dozen costume changes? Was I witnessing a dress rehearsal for some bizarre Bohemian Grove ritual? “No” to both. Soon I got it through my thick skull: it was just the start of a really fun, good-humored rock ‘n’ roll show, brought to us by the Spellemannprisen-winning Kvelertak.


After Hjelvik casually walked off the stage and returned mask-free, the band revved up the appropriately titled “1985,” the first single from the upcoming Nattesferd. With his long hair, black jeans, black Nikes, and utter shirtlessness, Hjelvik looked like he just arrived from said year with the assistance of Doc Brown.


"Pentagram? Never heard of 'em."
(Collage: Brian Rambo)

Super-melodic, technical, and speedy, with plenty of over-indulgent riffs—a few songs ended with the band just hammering away on the same riff for minutes on end without any variation—Kvelertak occasionally slowed things down with some stunning passages capable of moistening the eye.


When I sampled the band’s two albums, Meir and Kvelertak, before the show, I found that Hjelvik’s throat-shredding screams tended to get tiresome, and not even the occasional gang vocals offered enough of a reprieve. Unfair or not, I was thankful his vocals were buried beneath the busy drums, bass, and triple-guitar attack in the live mix.


Sound issues aside, Hjelvik was the star of the show. He banged his head constantly. He hocked loogies toward the ceiling and caught them (hopefully, anyone who met him later opted for a first bump instead of a handshake). He casually exited the stage to saunter over to the bar for shots. And once, he sang to Torche’s Steve Brooks off stage right. Brooks ate it up and naturally responded by rubbing his bushy head of hair against Hjelvik’s sweaty gut.


The man that Metallica’s James Hetfield described as “savage” jumped into the crowd no less than four times, and I cringed for those who had no choice but to receive his slippery bulk. (He wasn’t the only one to say a full-bodied “hello” to the crowd—early in the set, super fan Brooks sprinted across the stage and took a leap of his own into Philadelphia’s loving arms.)


At first, I was miffed that Torche wasn’t headlining the show. But I have to admit: for 75 minutes, I had Kvelertak fever. On the night of April 14, 2016, they were my favorite band, the freshest thing I’d heard all year, and the more they played, the more I wanted to hear. And now here I am, anxiously awaiting the new record, no longer irritated but elated.


As the adoring hordes got their exercise in for the day via circle pit, and others raised their fists and Pabst tallboys as gestures of appreciation for the motley crew on stage, and the last chords crashed through the basement venue, I threw my doubts away for good—I totally got it. Or should I say, “Jeg helt skjønner”?


-Jason Mosheim


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