Few producers and sound engineers in extreme music have created as unique and instantly recognizable a sonic brand as Kurt Ballou. The Converge guitarist and founder of GodCity Studio has a reputation behind the board that is equal in stature to his work in front of it, releasing record after gargantuan, blistering record replete with an overwhelmingly heavy yet somehow astonishingly clear production style. Austin, Texas crossover thrash (or as titled by the band themselves in Gibsonian fashion, “Neuropunk”) outfit Expander are the latest band to receive the Ballou treatment on their debut record Endless Computer, and few times has Ballou’s signature style created such a perfect marriage with a band’s aesthetic. Endless Computer is a fantastic, lightning fast, relentless barrage of hardcore and thrash goodness that gives Power Trip’s fantastic 2017 release Nightmare Future a run for its crossover money in practically every way. It’s a debut of absolute assurance and confidence that portends to great things for this young band.
While the confines of crossover thrash are bursting at the seams with both new and veteran talent, Expander create a unique space for themselves with their unique aesthetic and ceaselessly aggressive songwriting. On their debut, the band construct a more unrelentingly jagged and harsh sound that lays waste to every ear drum in sight. As an additional treat, Endless Computer encase their music in sci-fi elements that make the album a blast to listen to. While the themes of a decaying, post-acopalyptic society are not at all new to the subgenre, particularly in the works of band influences like the aforementioned Power Trip, Municipal Waste, Iron Reagan, and Toxic Holocaust, Endless Computer feels almost more like an Artificial Brain record lyrically than the more immediate socially-driven escapades of their peers. This is thematic music that is ready to remove your face from your skull with a surgical precision that few of their peers can match. In short, Endless Computer is a blazing, razor-sharp, flat-out assault of sci-fi infused crossover thrash that is decidedly awesome. If this is your thing, you’ve found your new favorite band.
All of the above can be found in the album’s first track, “Biochron Space Suit”, which sets the pace for the remainder of the album perfectly. It begins with the band shoving the musical pedal to the floor and ends with said pedal crushed and ground into a fine powder, your neighborhood obliterated by a runaway vehicular intelligence intent on inflicting as much damage as physically possible in the shortest amount of time. There is little to no breathing room as the band bludgeon us senseless with more thrashy hardcore riffs than most unaccustomed minds could handle. Much of the band’s thrash influence stems from the vocals, which are delivered with throat-shredding verve from start to finish. Meanwhile, the guitars and drums lay out a layered and relentless barrage of hardcore mania. The remaining tracks on this record are no less lethal, with “R-Type 2 Civilization” and “War Terminal (The True Front Line)” bringing the heat with an uncompromising level of ferocity. The blazing speed initiated by the album’s first few tracks doesn’t abate until title track “Endless Computer” and the subsequent “Authority Spire”, which progress through their riffs with more mid-tempo menace. Following this brief respite (if we could call it that) “Opulent Tesseract Ascension” puts the album right back on the speed-based train to hell, not relenting until the subdued, haunting instrumental finale “Cold Orbit II: Facing Worlds”. Through all of this speedy blasting, Ballou’s production prowess shines through immaculately. These songs ring clear, yet remain absurdly heavy, menacing, and ferocious. While this lack of sonic variation could come across as a bit bland, the band play with such passion and consistency that I have few complaints with the more uniform sound of the record. The band know what they do well, and do it with all their collective might until the listener is rendered senseless by the audio violence. It’s a trip, and one well worth taking.
Expander enter the crossover thrash fray with a debut that is as confident and assured as any released this year. Endless Computer is a relentless and incredibly fun record that most fans of this branch of the metal tree will enjoy. Ballou’s production adds some fantastic clarity and ferocity to the band’s sound, resulting in some of the most engaging crossover thrash of the year. Strap in and prepare yourself for a lot more raging sci-fi awesomeness in the foreseeable future, because Expander are going to be around for a while.
Endless Computer was released on September 20th through Nuclear War Now! Records and is available for purchase on the band’s Bandcamp page.