words by Parker Langvardt, photo by Justin Tyler

Torche @ MHoW two weeks ago

I've been to three heavy shows in the past two weeks, and if I don't take a moment to geek out about gear, I'd be leaving out a huge part of what draws me to bands like The Sword, Helms Alee, and Coliseum. Nothing sounds as crushing as a carefully constructed tube amp and speaker cab, and heavy bands who invest in gear by companies like Sunn, Orange, or Chicago's own Emperor add color to their tone that can help inspire more colorful music. Helms Alee creates textural tones and the occasional soft verse that make their heavy riffs stand out as more emotional and less boneheaded than most "metal" bands with their Verellen Amplifiers, constructed by their guitarist Ben Verellen and endorsed by other Seattle musicians such as Minus the Bear, Heather Duby, and producer Matt Bayles (ex-Minus the Bear).

Helms Alee is a true power trio instrumentally and vocally, with each band member contributing their voice at the appropriate time, amounting to a variety of beautifully primal harmonies. Drummer Hozoji Matheson-Margulis (Hozi) adds her higher scream to intensify Verellen's low yell, also using her low singing to fill out bassist Dana James' soft voice spots like the slow verses of "Epic Adventure Through the Woods" from their new LP Weatherhead. Verellen is not exceptional at singing solo, but blends well with Hozi and James in harmonizing sections.

Big Business was much better than I expected after seeing them open for Tool in 2007. The Bottom Lounge is a perfect sized venue for the band, as opposed to the outdoor pavilion lawn I originally heard them from. They played a relentless, high energy set fueled by drummer Coady Willis, who reinforces the band's screams through a headset mic. Bassist Jared Warren adapts his iconic sludge metal voice over the varying degrees of instrumental intensity. Guitarist Scott Martin has a smoother voice than the other two, and he sounds a lot like what I'd expect from a guy with a handlebar mustache. "Guns" was a highlight of the performance, opening with a bass line that alternated between a low grind and high sonar bleeps. The drums built up the rhythm until they hit the chorus of "Guns, Guns, Guns are better than everything else" (the only lyrics in the song), which is the mantra from which the entire song's rhythm is defined. When I first heard the track I didn't think it was too interesting, but after witnessing the band's humor I realized the sarcasm, as did many other audience members, though there were still quite a few confused stares.

I've been waiting to see Torche for several years now, and though they are a very tight live band, their set lacked the excitement of Helms Alee's. The vocals were not nearly as impressive as on their recordings, as Steve Brooks handled them by himself much of the time, juggling guitar duties and projecting his voice. The first half of their set was dominated by melodic rock, drawing heavily from their 2008 LP Meanderthal. The second half was much more sludgy, and at times the vocals were muddied more by their Drop-A guitar tuning or a completely slack, toneless "bomb string," as Brooks calls it.