Album: Pretty Low
One of the great things about the country we live in—the good ol’ US of A—is how each geographic region of the country has its own nuances and traits. Take, for the example, the American south; often stymied as “backwards” and “redneck,” but in reality is home to a slower pace of living with a culturally diverse and rich background. The same can be said no matter where you go in the country, and, in turn, the world. So what does that leave for the quizzical collection of states that defines the Midwest? Well—if this past winter (and a great number of winters before it) and preceding summer are any indication, the Midwest is a region of extremes: extreme weather, heat, frigidity—all breed extremely hardy individuals. This couldn’t be truer of Milwaukee-based masters of hardcore, Expire. Every ounce the product of incendiary heat and frostbite-inducing cold, Pretty Low is a collection of tracks that embody flaming, furious anger and bitter, brooding cool that couldn’t serve as a finer follow-up to 2012’s Pendulum Swings if it tried.
Heat—blistering, intense, sporadic. The raw, heavy hardcore instrumentation that pours forth from Pretty Low is as intense as ten suns and as rampant as a forest fire. Percussion rampages through the listener’s headphones with a beefy—but speedy—candor, either pummeling the listener with deep, rolling toms or rapid, cracking snare; this is especially true of “Fiction,” a track that oscillates between a punctual, booming introduction and a lightning-fast kick-and-snare drum pattern that will have the listener head-banging hard enough to snap their necks. Not to be outdone, the bass and guitar are just as intense and beat down upon the listener with just as much fury. Pretty Low sees Expire attacking the listener with both dissonant, chaotic riffs—as in “Pretty Low” and “Forgetting”—and chug-friendly, neck-snapping breakdowns like those in “Gravity” and “Rejection.” “Rejection” is additionally home to some of Expire’s most inventive and catchy fretwork—manifesting in the thick, rolling tones of the bass guitar. Throughout all of these elements, there is syncope—a relentless, scorching heat that melts the listener’s eardrums into loose, seeping bile.
However, after the heat, there comes the frost—and Expire’s deep, bone-chilling cold is as savage as their knack for skin-melting scorch. It is through lyrical animosity and stubborn, hard-headed cynicism that Pretty Low gets its sharp, frozen edge. With lyrics like those found in the album’s lead single, “Pretty Low,” in combination with the band’s signature shrill, high-strung scream, create a piercing freeze that cuts right through the acrid, intense heat of the track’s instrumentation and drives it (much akin to an ice pick) straight into the listener’s brain. “Gravity” uses a similar approach; taking advantage of the high, crystal-clear scream to preach lyrics driven by self-loathing at the listener. However, just because Expire have made an abundant, almost trademarked use of their shrieked, screamed vocal style doesn’t mean Pretty Low is without vocal variety. The latter portion of the album shows a heavier use of a gruff, mid-range shout and, at times, even a bellowed, low growl to prevent the release from dropping into the all-too-common pitfall of vocal monotony that plagues traditional hardcore. This, in combination with lyrics that can be easily related to by the listener, makes Expire’s vocal dynamic uncharacteristically strong, and an area of exponential improvement over the band’s past releases.
Pretty Low carries on like the seasons—in cycles. Freezing the listener solid with vocal bitterness and lyrical misanthropy only to melt them into a formless puddle with instrumental intensity that is practically unparalleled in modern hardcore circles. Simply put, Expire have spent their past three releases refining their sound, building upon a foundation of unusual talent to craft a monastery that serves as a home to the masters of modern hardcore. “Pretty Low” is nothing short of an anthem—a track that will make even the staunchest doubters of heavy music screaming along and craving a stage-dive or two. Likewise, “Gravity” will hit any listener in the chest like a shotgun, knocking them backwards out of their seat for “Nobody” and “Old Habits” to kick and scratch at. If there is any flaw in Expire’s Pretty Low, it is the same flaw that reigned supreme in their previous releases; run time. Clocking in at under a half-an-hour, the album feels almost incomplete, leaving the listener wanting for just one or two more bangers to drive the release home. Fortunately for the listener—and Expire—there is a replay button, and an entire catalog of previous releases to fill those cravings.
If music was used as a roadmap to diagram the areas of our nation, Expire would no doubt define the Midwest. Pretty Low is Vicious heat and savage frost that reach a dialectic state which simply ravages the listener, leaving them tattered and torn. In short, this release is one which certainly has never heard of an expiration date, and will live on in the hearts—and headphones—of hardcore fanatics for years to come.
For Fans Of: Madball, Cockpunch!, Suburban Scum, Rotting Out
By: Connor Welsh