The Phantom Tollbooth
Artist: Torn  (Canada)
Label: independent (available through
Length: 9 tracks / 35:55 minutes
Finally. Those longing for more modern muscle rock in the vein of Soundgarden, recent Metallica, Tool, Silverchair, and Creed have a new album worthy of their attention. Torn's Solitude rings true, like a collection of unpolished b-sides by those bands at one point or another in their careers. Rock-solid drumming, growling bass, and double-barrelled distortion fill the speakers with the maturity of a band that's been at it for years. Pop sensibilities are there under the surface, but the mission of Torn is to crank. Solitude is a noisy groove-monster catharsis, fueled by Carter McLaughlin's songs of sorrow and seeking.
What takes Torn to the top level of its genre is McLaughlin's possession of one of those metal-grunge voices quaking over with power and emotion. He's good. Sure, it's been done already, but there's something about those lung-powered sorrow-tinged vocals that makes grunge continue to hit a chord with millions of people. Unfortunately, the other band members are only temporary hires brought together to provide him an outlet to release music and lyrics written during a period of homelessness and desperation in McLaughlin's life. Although he now gives glory to God for bringing him out of that situation and into a home and a relationship, Solitude draws its energy from the unenjoyable emotions of that loneliness. Most notably, "Tree" is sung from Christ's perspective on the cross, and "Cell" mourns:
           Here I'll die in my darkened cell
           Wishing I could fly away
           In my sin I've been denied my wings
           So this cell becomes my grave
           Oh God, please help me
           Free my soul
The album is not without weaknesses. The songs can seem to blend together in their unrelenting aggression, until further listens, and some of the vocals are irritatingly distorted on tracks near the end, so that some of the lyrics are hard to make out. Also, many great ideas go undeveloped, such as the powerful merger of chanting monks with a lurching riff on "Life," cut short after a disappointing minute and a half. This slackness in the songwriting unfortunately limits the memorability of the songs after the CD stops.

So, while the music is all-authentic in mood and overall sound, there's much room for growth in the song construction. What a place to start from, though....
by Josh Spencer   (3/5/99)