Towards the tail end of 2017, it seemed like the doom boom that had dominated the UK underground for several years at that point was becoming oversaturated, sure to dissipate in the coming months. What followed in 2018 was another onslaught of brilliance from the slower leg of extreme metal, and wouldn’t you fucking know it, 2019 has brought us yet more. Indeed, this scene has enjoyed such a spell in the limelight (well, of the small, dimly lit venues of places like Manchester, Sheffield, London and Brighton) that we’ve seen bands come and go, labels like APF and Sludgelord rise to prominence and publications like ourselves struggling to find room for the rest of metal’s depraved appendages. Emerging in 2012 with their debut EP Bled Dry, Torpor are one of this scene’s most noteworthy talents, and with second full-length Rhetoric Of The Image, the trio further cement the fact that the doom/sludge/stoner scene is still brimming with talent and unlikely to fade away anytime soon.
The genre may be known for its aversion to pacier tempos, but Torpor’s strain of sludge is far from lackadaisical in nature. Here, the band further distance themselves from the hardcore and groove metal elements found on 2015’s From Nothing Comes Everything, delving deeper into the slow-burning darkness found on their 2016 split with Sonance, whilst retaining the brutish heft and an urgency seldom seen from bands of their type. The trio see no need in wasting your time with a mellow slow-building intro, instead opener ‘Benign Circle’ launches out of the gate with a tremolo-picked guitar that seems to be ascending to somewhere grand, but quickly drags you back to earth with a clobbering riff that would make the likes of Noothgrush proud.
In a scene in which every band seems to be competing to be the heaviest, Torpor are up there with Vile Creature, Body Void and Moloch, but they refrain from going full-on stifling intensity à la Primitive Man. Like those Denver bruisers, Torpor combine noise and sludge to ramp up the brutality, but post-metal flourishes keep things grander, with Rhetoric Of The Image’s sound favouring tectonic bass rumblings, sprawling riffs and ethereal soundscapes even when dialling the intensity up to eleven and keeping it there for five minutes flat. Indeed, the band are capable of the sort of heads-down intensity capable of turning a room full of people into a room of flailing hair and sore necks. However, there’s more to their sound than steamrolling grooves and oppressive riffs. Passages of restraint are present throughout, building anticipation but also proving captivating in their own right – the malevolent buzzing and bewitching spoken-word passages of ‘Two Heads On Gold’, as well as the bleak but poignant tones of ‘Mouths Full Of Water, Throats Full Of Ice’, are some of the album’s strongest moments.
It’s exciting to hear bands doing new things with genres that have no right to be fruitful as they currently are, and Torpor are up there with the likes of Mastiff, Aerosol Jesus, Opium Lord and Kurokuma when it comes to UK-based progressive sludge that builds on the genre’s foundations whilst striving to come at it from a new angle. Rhetoric Of The Image comprises the trio’s best work to date, interspersing savage lumbering grooves and bleak growls with swelling synths, poetic spoken-word, melancholic chimes and cinematic soundscapes to birth an album that’s simultaneously familiar and thrillingly inventive.
Words: George Parr