Pretty Low

Written by: AP on 29/09/2014 21:53:59

It tends to take some convincing to lure me into dabbling in the hardcore genre, as my knowledge of its core values, the bands that helped shape it and what constitutes quality therein is admittedly, and regrettably, rather shallow. But every now and then the nuggets of hype scattered across the Internet surrounding some band prove too irresistible even for a light connoisseur such as myself, and I am pressed into it. Such was the case with Expire’s 2012 debut “Pendulum Swings”, which was widely acclaimed as one of the best hardcore albums to be released this decade and, in the absence of a review from us, prompted me, a latecomer to the phenomenon, to dive headfirst into their sophomore record, “Pretty Low”.

In my occasional forays into hardcore, I’ve often been discouraged by the skewed priorities adopted by its practitioners: too often is message emphasised at the cost of everything else, with the result that the instrumental aspects sound more like an afterthought in all their lethargic simplicity. Alas, incessant chugging and the stubborn repetition of simple distorted power chords were never techniques to rouse me, though I will readily admit that this boils down to personal preference and should not be understood as some universal decree that such music is boring, uninventive and unambitious. The great irony is that Expire match that description to a large extent - they’re not a band to assign much value to the experimental, or to the boundary pushing - and yet this latest record “Pretty Low” has not, and I suspect will not perish from my memory.

But then, Expire have in Josh Kelting a formidable vocalist, whose style of pelting vitriol is anything but ordinary. His savage, and outright deranged scream strikes an instant chord with me, affording the necessary candour to his musings on frustration, cynicism and self-loathing à la "Forever cloaked in stress, wrapped tightly around my chest. Constricting every breath I might take. Inch closer to the edge, move closer to the end. A little closer to the day I might break" in the incendiary title track. Such acrid verse sounds like it's streaming directly from Kelting's heart, his distress audible in every piercing high; and the realisation that he would almost certainly snap were it not for this outlet is never far from thought.

With none of the 11 tracks extending beyond the 3-minute mark, Expire serve their music in concentrated doses, and it is perhaps for this reason exactly that the churning low-end grooves sound so potent - compress a spring enough, and the potential kinetic energy will verge toward the explosive. Songs like "Gravity" and "Nobody" are seething with scorching rage, guitarist Zach Dear, bassist Caleb Murphy and drummer Marcus Boldt crafting an instrumental foundation that, paradoxically, sounds thick as lead and woefully unstable at the same time. They by no means propose to reinvent the wheel - the musicianship focuses heavily on burning intensity and pummel in the low ranges - but with Kelting's frenzied bellows leading the line, the resulting mix is one of the most punishing, and frightening I've ever heard in this genre. The remorseless flogging administered by "Callous" and "Rejection", for instance, is shocking every time.

Yet for all its animosity, there is something quite empowering about "Pretty Low", Kelting's spilling of his soul, the channeling of his anger through music, taking an inspirational and cathartic form. Unyielding in their style though they may be, Expire take the ferocity of metallic hardcore to another level, and while strictly speaking there is little innovative about it, Expire thrive in the completeness of their narrow niche, distilling strength from focus. Fierce, harsh and bitter, "Pretty Low" is a measured expression of a feeling, and an exposition of hardcore at its best.


Download: Pretty Low, Fiction, Gravity, Nobody, Callous
For the fans of: Backtrack, Cruel Hand, Soul Search, Turnstile
Listen: Facebook

Release date 17.06.2014
Bridge Nine Records

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