Title: Rhetoric of the Image
Label: Sludgelord Records
Release Date: 20 September 2019
Format: Digital Download
A state of physical or mental inactivity; lethargy.
Late Middle English from Latin, from torpere ‘be numb or sluggish’.
The UK’s Sludgelord Records are really knocking it out of the park at the moment. The coming weeks see great new releases from CRANIAL, WALLOWING and OPIUM LORD, just to name a few. I’m finding it hard to keep up and to tear myself away from reviewing anything other than crushing, doom-sludge-post-metal. And now here we are with another excellent release to add to the pile – “Rhetoric of the Image” by London’s TORPOR. Formed in 2012 by Lauren Mason on bass and Simon Mason on drums and Jon Taylor on guitars, the band later added Nats Spada on vocals, releasing their first full-length “From Nothing Comes Everything” in 2015. Four years later, the band has trimmed to a three piece (minus Spada) with Taylor taking over main vocal duties.
TORPOR definitely understand how to fit their music to their band name. Slow, and heavy – both sonically as well as feeling like it weighs down on the listener – “Rhetoric of the Image” is not so much an exercise in contrasting light and dark, as it is the feeling of forces alternating between extreme pressure and release.
Sometimes the music buries you into the mud as you sink deeper in to the ground, only to find yourself released the next moment, at least enough to be able to breath for some period of respite. Maybe there’s a glimpse of light through the trees, but the music never lets you bask in sunlight. Perhaps a breeze will offer some temporary relief, but soon enough the earth comes weighing down on the listener again with gigantic slabs of sound.
Opening track “Benign Circle” has a SWANS feel with some of the ringing chords, reminiscent of their mid 90s, post-rock phase; there’s a NEUROSIS flavor in the brooding, chugging menace and a touch of JESU with some of the feedback tones. Melodies when they come are subtle. The track builds, but keeps interest the whole time and the growling vocals from Taylor fit nicely. It’s over 11 minutes long, but doesn’t feel like it.
The flow of the album is really well balanced. Tracks 1, 3 and 5 are the most crushing exercises in slow, pounding heaviness, while “Two Heads Full of Gold” and “Mouths Full of Water, Throats Full of Ice” let some oxygen in with more sparse, esoteric and ethereal arrangements. The former starts with a slowly building hum, into sparse, distorted, echoing drums and flat, spoken vocals from Lauren Mason. It feels very reminiscent of Kim Gordon from SONIC YOUTH, or the NEUROSIS/ JARBOE collaboration. The track keeps it simple, but interesting, gradually morphing with changes in tone and some simple synth melodies coming in.
“Mouths Full of Water…” meanwhile starts with sparse bass or synth and some chiming percussion – as if signalling a religious ritual. It’s very much in the feel of SKIN (SWANS’ bleak side-project) and the association is cemented by the languid, ethereal vocals. It’s very impressive how the band uses these two calmer tracks to add contrast to the album.
In between, “Enigmatic Demand” opens with a creepy effect, reminiscent of THE BITHDAY PARTY’S “The Friend Catcher”, like screeching metal of a train braking in the distance. Although the track takes a while to build there’s a hypnotic, trancelike quality to it that makes total sense, especially when listened to in a state of tiredness, early or late in the day.
At 16 minutes in length, closing track “Mourning the Real” saves the biggest build up and release till last. Extremely heavy and distorted, but still with a certain crispness to the sound, it’s such an all enveloping world created by the band, that it doesn’t feel like three normal looking people playing instruments, but rather a glimmer of primal sounds being pushed from the earth’s core. With the final driving riff being reminiscent of NEUROSIS’ “Aeon” I’m delighted to once again be able to reference that track in a review. The detail of the playing, audible from the excellent production job here – as on the rest of the album – is great: crisp cymbal crashes, atmospheric synth effects, the growling vocals, the deep resonating guitar and bass, it’s all really well put together, and it’s a totally immersive world the band has created.
I once read TYPE O NEGATIVE described as BLACK SABBATH slipping into a coma. Perhaps in a similar spirit TORPOR could be described as NEUROSIS crushed by the weight of a dying sun. And as someone who loves both TYPE O and NEUROSIS I mean that as a great complement. 8/10 Tom
8/10 To Greatness and Glory
**Please support the underground! It’s vital to the future of our genre