The dudes in Orlando sludge-pop quartet Torche brand their music as “rips with a smile.” It’s a fitting description: This is a band that is undeniably rooted in the churning fervor of the Melvins and Corrosion Of Conformity (the latter of which Torche is currently on tour) but also supplants the genre’s perfunctory gloom with glee. Just look at the artwork for the band’s latest LP, Harmonicraft. No pentagrams or sacrificial lambs here; just some peculiar, candy-gobbling, rainbow-puking beasts. Yes, this is a very fun record, one that continues with the poppy direction of 2008′s Meanderthal. But underneath Harmonicraft‘s cheerful exterior are some of the most brutal riffs to be heard all year. There is no time to rest. There is only time to rock.
 
The propulsive “Letting Go” starts off the affair with aplomb: rabid, dueling guitars sparring in a soundscape recalling the similarly rowdy early days of the Foo Fighters. Then there are the stoner-y sing-alongs of “Kicking,” the album’s lead single, matched in excellence by the blistering, Sabbath-inspired wails of “Reverse Inverted,” which might just be one of the best hard rock songs of 2012.
 
You’d think there would be a scaled-back ballad to slow the breakneck pace, but Torche is not the type of band to stop ripping. “Snakes Are Charmed” is like Nyan Cat straight out of hell: hyperactive arpeggios colliding against similarly spaced-out vocals. There’s even a rambunctious, Tenacious D-style ode to the bromance, aptly titled “Kiss Me Dudely.” The common thread uniting the entire thing is the band’s murky chug-a-lug, which strikes the perfect balance between bubblegum punk and heavier, sludgier stuff. Lead singer Steve Brooks doesn’t have the same capacity for vocal athleticism as other metal frontmen, and he generally sticks to a throaty, monotone tenor that might dissuade Dio acolytes. But it’s more than enough to give the crunchy tunes and irresistible melodicism. Harmonicraft isn’t just the best Torche release: It’s a contender for one of the best loud rock releases of the year.