Wearing short pants, short sleeves, and a neck bandage over a brown-spider bite, Matt Preira lamented still not being able to escape the humidity, and the sweat pouring out during his frenetic errand running — from making sure the plugs on the back patio work to smoothing over line-up issues — suggested he would melt like Senator Robert Kelly at any moment. He’d later tell me, “the bite, my mind, it’s all going to shit. Gonna turn into a pumpkin by the end of the night.” If so, it wouldn’t have been in vain.
Friday, Preira celebrated releasing Holly Hunt’s debut LP, Year One, a staggering achievement in towering doom, on Roofless Rex. Sharing the celebration was Torche, heralding the release of its own 7-inch single for “Harmonslaught,” essentially a victory lap after the year’s much touted Harmonicraft. Also sharing the celebration was another show Preira was running that was unaffiliated with the record release. While having a second show compete with that of the band whose record you are releasing might seem like the ultimate anti-mersh maneuver, Preira stated it came together at the last minute when the tour, whose line-up we’ll be focusing on, was coming through on its planned night.
First band the Tunnel went from pigfuck desperation to sloppy, Marty Friedman-indebted Egyptian scales to triumphalist 16-bit boss-level guitar solos in its first five minutes. The band really put that work in, with the drummer even sitting in an office chair like he was on the clock. The singer, an affable Steve Brule-in-his-college-years type, looped his own guitar for dueling solos, essentially competing with himself for the benefit of everyone. Closing song “Cave of Swimmers” kicked off with an ominous thrum that recalled the distant cattle cars of Force Majeure, eventually being topped off by spirited ululation usually reserved for a cantor on Yom Kippur. I didn’t understand the words, but could only think “ATONE.” He may or may not have been summoning a golem.
At the end of Holly Hunt’s set, local artist Bryan Butler hunched over the stage with a sketchpad. He did a portrait of every set, limiting himself to their duration. His portrait of Holly Hunt was a kinetic sprawl, with Beatriz Monteavaro wielding her drumsticks like a samurai. I asked him why she wore a grimace instead of her actual grin, and he told me, “It’s aggressive music, what do you think, you’re at a pop-punk show?” He’s half-right, too, but that grey area between dread and catharsis is the kind of frisson Holly Hunt’s music runs on.
Year One’s title suggests primal ooze and the thudding, dirge-like wail that makes up the first third of the album. But the first track is titled “Lunar Module,” which befits the NASA-feed static that leads into the main riff. The following “Atlas” and, especially, “Manchurian Candidate,” operate in this vein, closing in like the descent-to-earth tracking shot that opens an alien-invasion film or, perhaps more aptly given the song titles, a political thriller. Titles such as “Manchurian Candidate,” “Papers Please,” and “Lunar Module,” suggest an air of paranoia, bureaucracy, and surveillance. Along with “Disco is Dead,” they also suggest a continuum between cold-war politics, post-Vietnam malaise and the heavily watched now.
Year One is a challenging record. Naturally, a show with selections from the album will be challenging as well, a wall of noise and a punishing assortment of squalls, but not without lighter touches. For one, anyone buying the record got a free set of earplugs. Naturally, they ran out of earplugs and I, having forgotten mine, made peace with part of my hearing. Second, amid the crumbling towers of noise was a kind of unadulterated joy.
Prior to Torche taking the stage, Rick Smith played along to Miami bass classic “Pop That Coochie,” signaling Torche’s bid for Miami’s premier party band. During the set, Smith’s method looked the drumming equivalent of Willem DaFoe’s death scene in Platoon, hands flailing. Jonathan Nunez nearly popped forehead veins propelling his head around, stopping mainly to stick his tongue out in the great Gene Simmons tradition, and Steve Brooks led a call and response chant. Brooks has expressed admiration for David Lee Roth, and Torche’s brand of metal, especially in this setting, is tangentially related to Diamond Dave’s antics, a kind of hair-prog.
With the record cover in stark black and white, the bratz-ified rainbow vomiting dragons of Harmonicraft are reduced to one grandstanding chameleon wielding a wizard’s staff over a cloud-spewing pentagram. (“a tribute to Onslaught’s Power from Hell album art. Just for fun,” Brooks says.) The only color, red, is in the title, “Harmonslaught,” which replaces the mollifying combination of harmony and craft with an onslaught of harm. From the first note on, anyone comforted by the bubblegum-arena theatrics is given a jolt, “Harmonslaught”‘s rawness eschewing some of the poppier aspects of this year’s LP.
The Churchill’s soundsystem cut through Brooks’ signature voice, one that on record rests somewhere between Robert Pollard intoning “for the dreams of the weed king we are saved” and Chief Keef on Citgo. His grunge-y wail still had a phantom presence; during an instrumental breakdown, the squall of the guitar sounded like Chris Cornell’s cries over the Havana retreat sequence in Miami Vice. One interesting effect of the amplified blare’s vocal strangulation was that Brooks’ harmonized yelling with the second guitarist made them sound like a punk Allman Brothers. Around 2 a.m., they sealed it off with a final distorted assault, a blistering blaze of white noise straight out of Yoko Ono’s fever dreams. The ending of Hustle and Flow played on the TV above the bar. Terence Howard pistol-whipped Ludacris. Djay was about to go to prison, saying goodbye to all that while coming into his own. You could say Torche said goodnight that way, too.
–By Adam Katzman