Touche Amore Credit: Christian Cordon

On May 9, 2010, Touche Amore opened for Converge, Coalesce, and Black Breath at Bottom Lounge. Every band on the bill was repping an album released within the past year, several of them great—but the Burbank five-piece appeared most in awe of their circumstances, most grateful to be sharing the stage. Just nine months after dropping their 2009 debut, . . . To the Beat of a Dead Horse, Touche Amore were being courted by Converge hardcore honcho Jacob Bannon and his Deathwish Inc. label (with whom they’d release their next two records), and front man Jeremy Bolm was clearly stoked about it.

Throughout the band’s set, Bolm paced the stage with the manic energy of a kid whose mind percolates and eyes widen at the sensory deluge of a carnival’s light show, often grinning from ear to ear. And he wore his earnestness like a badge of honor, unafraid to look starry-eyed—exactly as he does on To the Beat. The album’s quick-hit onslaught of raw, tattered guitar, swooping yet brawny rhythms, and scratchy, zealous yowls can elicit a powerful nostalgia on the very first spin, as though it’s already been with you for ages—it seems to want to learn something rather than just yell at you about something. Touche Amore’s melodic hardcore explores themes of vulnerability in its lyrics, skimming from emo and borrowing youth crew’s sincerity and underdog mentality.

Bolm is at his most magnanimous and forgiving when he reflects on eras of life gone by. He dwells, he muses—and he accepts that no matter how great the pang, he’s writing to study it, not to find a fix. This is an outlook for which hardcore has always yearned. Gorilla Biscuits, Lifetime, Modern Life Is War: long before Touche Amore, they were pros at combining hardcore’s tough-guy, meat-and-­potatoes songwriting with wistful melodies and lyrics about time flying by. Because damn it, tough guys need to feel too.

The title of Touche Amore’s newest album, Stage Four (Epitaph), refers to the death of Bolm’s mother, who succumbed to cancer in 2014 at age 69. Delicate and painful, it deals directly with his relationship to her—both in the past, when he took her for granted, and in the present, when he has to come to grips with her absence. And Bolm doesn’t let himself off the hook for that apparent contradiction—he realizes that it can look like he only started caring when she was gone. On “Eight Seconds” he admits that he intentionally missed the call announcing her death, choosing to delay the inevitable by socializing at a show (“Made the call and stared at my feet / She passed away about an hour ago / While you were onstage living the dream”). On the the next song, “Palm Dreams,” he provides insight into his mother’s story—not his story without her—by wondering about the brave move she made to California decades ago (“What was it that brought you west / I assume but could only guess”).

A self-prescribed character study, Stage Four is more polished and refined than any of Touche Amore’s other records (it’s their first for Epitaph), but Bolm’s earnestness hasn’t waned an ounce in the six years since that show at Bottom Lounge—he still seems full of wonderment that he gets to do this at all. If anything his curiosity has intensified, redirected into self-evaluation. That comes with age, no doubt, and often with tragedy—and it’s made Touche Amore flag bearers for modern-day melodic hardcore. v