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Torch Runner have been together since 2007, and originally released their 2012 debut Committed to the Ground”in a limited vinyl run. Their recent signing to Southern Lord, leading purveyors of This Kind of Thing (I guess you’d call it blackened crust) has shone a little more attention on the Greensboro natives and, as a result, they’ve given this album a worldwide CD/MP3 release. Southern Lord’s current obsession with releasing bands that all sound quite similar to Torch Runner – see recent releases by Enabler, All Pigs Must Die, Black Breath, Dead in the Dirt, Martyrdod, Baptists, Nails – would probably have become a bit of a joke in the world of extreme metal were it not for the fucking amazing music that is created every single time. Each album appears to be better than the last, as if Southern Lord has some Moneyball-style system of finding bands who are making this relatively niche music and putting all their might and resources behind promoting them. I can’t think of another label that has such a singular sound at the moment and by jingo, it’s bloody working for them. If you’re reading this and you’re baffled by my expert knowledge, here’s a pro-tip – the Southern Lord Sound is essentially a riffier, muscular brand of grindcore.
If you’re still reading this, nodding in agreement – perhaps reminiscing about your own favourites from the SL roster – then you already know exactly what I’m talking about. You already know pretty much exactly how Torch Runner sound, but is that a bad thing? They’re twisting and moulding the formula to make it work for them; a method that Nails used last year to make the heaviest album in living memory, and how Torch Runner preceded that with a sterling debut album suggesting bigger things to come. That this was recorded before they signed to SL is amazing, really, given how well it adheres to that style and how crisp the production is – it fizzes like a a really pissed off buzzsaw: a buzzsaw trying to get across a roundabout but one of the lanes is blocked by crossing traffic, for example.
The songs are short and brutal, with minimal fucking about – “Current” is a forty five second masterclass in how to wreck your vocal chords and a perfectly good drum kit; “Feeding” is slightly longer at one minute seven seconds, but no less ferocious, throwing in a bridge and a reprise for good measure. Title track “Committed to the Ground” feels epic at an astonishing four minutes thirty one seconds, and must comprise of half the album by itself. It’s a doomy rumination (a doomination?) channeling the willful dissonance and haunted vocals of Khanate with the throbbing riffage of Melvins, feedback and all. What I love about “Committed to the Ground”, and later on “The Holy are Broken”, is that they demonstrate Torch Runner are anything but a musical one-trick pony. The atmospherics of the latter song would suggest a funeral doom influence, perhaps even from orchestral black metal. They’re may not quite Wolves in the Throne Room but “The Holy are Broken” definitely exists in that same epic black metal universe. It’s an wonderful anomaly that sounds to my ears like it might have been recorded, or at least written, last. I hope they’ve expanded on that sound on the next album – which they are finishing up as I write this – while maintaining the insolent fury of their shorter songs. It’s a unique mix, and one that makes you feel a bit funny in your underpants.