Permanent Records is an ongoing closer look at the records that matter most.
Despite many metal heads’ tendency to see themselves and their culture as standing in direct opposition to mainstream ideals, the reality is that the metal world is highly heteronormative. Rob Halford of Judas Priest famously came out in 1998, and there are multiple other outspokenly gay metal musicians. Still, go to a metal show and the majority of attendees will likely be straight white dudes. It also wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to overhear a few homophobic jokes and slurs. But the world of heavy music is gradually becoming more welcoming, and Steve Brooks of Floor and Torche has played an important role in that progress.
He’s done this both by openly discussing his sexuality and melding pop melodies with sludge metal. In a 2012 Stereogum piece, journalist T. Cole Rachel commended Brooks for his willingness to talk about being gay. Brooks responded, “You know, I can’t not talk about it when I get asked… When I was younger, there was no internet and I didn’t have any gay friends, so I guess it’s nice to know you’re not alone—especially when you’re a musician playing more aggressive music.”
Like Brooks’ ideal to make queer-identifying people feel welcome in the metal world by talking about his personal life, Torche and Floor’s music is very inviting. Both bands are crushing, but their songs are undeniably catchy. It’s metal for the masses—hipsters, hessians, and everyone in between—and not in a dumb way.
Floor began in Miami in 1992, consisting of Steve Brooks on guitar, Anthony Vialon on bass, and Betty Monteavaro on drums, who was replaced by Jeff Sousa in ’93. The same year, Brooks and Vialon started using bottom-dwelling guitar tunings that superseded the need for a bassist. This duel guitar, sans bass approach became one of the defining aspects of Floor’s sound.
The band’s early material seethes with nihilism, similar to that of fellow Miami sludge lords, Cavity. Within its first few years, Floor released numerous singles, including 1994’s Loanin’ / Figbender 7-inch. “Loanin’” begins with an abusively churning riff and eardrum-eroding feedback, over which Steve Brooks shouts indecipherable lyrics in a Neanderthal yowl. Speaking with The Stranger in 2008, Steve Brooks recounted his struggle with his sexuality as a young man: “When I was about 18 or 19, I figured out, ‘Man, this isn’t a phase’… And I was pretty angry… I didn’t talk about it with anybody. Eventually, I went to a shrink, just to try and feel comfortable about it.” This conflict is palpable in the tortured crawl of “Loanin’.”
Even on its early recordings, Floor was stirring parasitic harmonies into its misanthropic sludge stew. Along with the above single, Floor recorded Dove in ’94, an LP that didn’t get released until No Idea put it out in 2004. The first track, “Who Are You?” pulses with abrasive anxiety, but the second song, “Namaste,” is driven by a swinging riff that will have you humming it for days. Dove additionally features “Figure It Out,” a ’50s-style pop song filtered through a wall of tar, which Floor eventually re-recorded and released as “Figured Out” on its self-titled album.
Two years after recording Dove, Floor temporarily broke up. Then, in 1997, Brooks and Vialon recruited drummer Henry Wilson, played one show with him, and practiced sporadically for a few years. The trio finally decided to buckle down and record the Floor LP during the summer of 2001. Jeff Sousa’s drumming on Dove palpitates with manic energy, but Henry Wilson’s behind-the-beat pounding added a gravitational pull to Floor’s already pulverizing sound.
Floor tracked its self-titled album in an oppressively hot warehouse in Tampa. The brain will force the muscles to slow in that type of heat, often resulting in feelings of fatigue. Listening to Floor (released by No Idea in 2002) can create a similar reaction.
The album begins with “Scimitar.” Brooks and Vialon grill up Wilson’s Megalodon backbeat and slather it with buckets of hot glue. Right before Brooks croons the song’s title, Floor stops on a dime, punctuating the rest with a Bonham triplet and bomb string tremor. Brooks initially discovered the notorious bomb string by mistake. As Brian Cook of The Stranger writes, “Brooks broke a guitar string mid-song and liked the way the slack made the note so low that it registered only as an amp-rattling, earthquake-sized rumble.” Brooks has been using the bomb string in Floor and Torche ever since, and it might be the closest anyone’s gotten to that Holy Grail of sludge and doom—the fabled brown note.
“Downed Star” and “Iron Girl,” the third and fourth tracks, move at the trudging pace of a defective asphalt grinder and feature melodic, Nirvana-on-Xanax (or at least way more Xanax) choruses. Neither of these songs surpasses the three-minute mark, and the longest cut on Floor, “Night Full Of Kicks,” clocks in at just over three minutes and 30 seconds. In short: Floor wears its hardcore influence on its sleeve while also writing hooks that are catchier than anything on the radio.
“Twink” is a sleek, directly-to-the-point song without a smidgeon of filler, and the title marks an overt reference to Brooks’ sexuality. It begins with shiny, uptempo rock that quickly devolves into a section that’s equally harmonic and sludge-laden—a rudimentary blueprint for many Torche songs. Only 53 seconds long, “Twink” demands repeat listens.
The eighth track, “Assassin,” was my introduction to Floor, and I’ve been in love ever since. Atop Wilson’s stutter-step groove, Brooks and Vialon play guillotine pick rakes before launching into a busy verse. The chorus then doubles as a bone-disintegrating breakdown. Surfing on a wave of virulent fuzz, Brooks belts “Crazy for the boy” in his beautifully lopsided voice. When I was 19 and first beginning to acknowledge that I was curious about fooling around with other guys, this lyric helped to quell my guilt. I was a young metal head, so Brooks’ words were more meaningful to me because they’re propelled by tar-soaked riffage and caveman drumming. Here was one of the heaviest songs I’d ever heard, and it told me that it was okay if dudes turned me on.
Nowhere is Floor’s now infamous mishmash of the poppy and heavy clearer than on “Figured Out,” the 11th song on Floor. The track sounds like a doo-wop hit, but one that’s drowning in cynicism and Promethazine. Most male singers from the 1950s croon about straight desire, so Brooks’ version of the unabashed love song flips this trope on its head. Emphasized by a caustic mixture of copiously downtuned guitars with a goldie oldie sensibility, this song is highly ironic, suggesting that love and lust can be anything but “Figured Out.”
Just one year after releasing Floor, the band broke up—seemingly for real this time. Brooks went on to form the effervescent Torche, and Wilson started singing and playing guitar in Dove, a trio that mixes D-beat hardcore with ferocious, High On Fire-style metal. Thankfully, Floor reunited for a few shows in 2010 and quickly realized that its original energy was very much intact. Brooks, Vialon, and Wilson gradually started writing 2014’s Oblation, which furthers Floor’s legacy by using more complicated song structures and rhythms to emphasize both heaviness and hooks.
In T. Cole Rachel’s Stereogum interview with Brooks, Rachel says, “As a fellow gay person… I appreciate the fact that you are so open about that. It seems as if there are only a handful of people in the metal world who are comfortable being openly gay.” In this way, it’s far from an exaggeration to say that the world of heavy music is genuinely better because of Steve Brooks and Floor. Metal is for everyone—an ethos that Brooks directly embodies and communicates. And, luckily for everyone, it doesn’t look like Floor is going to call it quits anytime soon.