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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Expire Examine the Dark Side of Sex on ‘Pretty Low’

Expire, Milwaukee
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Pretty Low, the new album from Milwaukee-based hardcore act Expire, wastes little time in setting the mood that dominates the record’s 11 tracks. Over a metal-infused riff provided by guitarist Zach Dear, vocalist Josh Kelting screams “Forever cloaked in stress / wrapped tightly around my chest / constricting every breath that I might take.” Pretty Low revels in this feeling of being crushed, of being overwhelmed. And while such common hardcore themes as betrayal and anger at societal norms are present throughout the album, Pretty Low also touches upon issues not usually addressed on hardcore records, including matters related to sexuality. It’s not always pretty, but Pretty Low displays an emotional honesty that sets Expire apart from many of their peers.

“There is a sexual undertone that makes its way throughout the record,” explains Kelting. More specifically, songs such as “Forgetting” and “Just Don’t” deal with “the confusion between love and lust, and how people get locked into these toxic relationships based solely on sexual desire.” Not necessarily groundbreaking stuff, but Expire doesn’t cast judgment on such relationships. In fact, Kelting often casts himself as willing party, as participant in something he knows is damaging—to both himself and others. “So nothing good can come of this,” he barks on “Just Don’t,” “so let’s just call it what it is.”

This preoccupation with the dark side of sexuality continues through “If It Were Up To Me,” a song that deals with the topic of sexual assault. Here, Kelting takes the perspective of someone forced to confront the assault of a family member. Enraged by both the crime—as well as by his inability to stop it—Kelting directly addresses the assailant and articulates his wish for a less forgiving form of justice: “You should’ve stood before a bullet / than stood before a hammer.”

On their own, such lines may seem a bit overwrought. Yet coupled with the noise created by Kelting, Dear, Marcus Boldt (drums) and Caleb Murphy (bass), they hit the listener right in the gut. “If It Were Up To Me” harkens back to the early glory days of crossover, when metal and hardcore began to come together in a potent mix. Throughout Pretty Low one can hear the influence of such seminal metal-hardcore hybrid acts as Madball, The Cro-Mags, Outburst and Leeway (despite hailing from the Midwest, Expire sound as if they emerged from the East Coast). Wisely avoiding the excesses commonly associated with heavy metal, Expire keep their songs short and sweet. At the same time, engineer Shane Hochstetler (Pretty Low was recorded at his Howl Street Recordings studio) does little to pretty up the band’s raw sound. “We wanted an angry, dirty-sounding record,” explains Kelting.

Following the release of Pretty Low last week the band will hit the road for an extended tour that takes them across the United States and to such countries as Germany, France and Poland. Since releasing their debut album, Pendulum Swings (2012), the band has spent little time in Milwaukee, opting to build their fan base in places well outside of Wisconsin. This strategy is primarily practical. “The hardcore scene in Milwaukee is very small,” notes Kelting. Yet Kelting hopes that Expire comes to serve as an inspiration for other bands within the Milwaukee hardcore scene and “in return help it grow.” If they can do it, Kelting suggests, anyone can.