Metal bands who excel are often those who are most masterful at drawing us as the audience into the depths of their aesthetic, at submerging us in the world they’ve created for as long as we can hear the sounds, and, if they are especially good, at bleeding their aesthetic over into our quotidian lives like paint running off the edge of the canvas. Expander is almost certainly one of these bands: after a couple of EPs that garnered mild attention in the blogosphere in 2015, they released their explosive debut full-length Endless Computer in 2017 and rocked quite a few people (yours truly included) with their caustic brand of sci-fi thrashy metalpunk. (The band themselves refer to it as “timezapped neuropunk.”)
Like Endless Computer, Neuropunk Boostergang – which certainly does not seek to tear down anything the band has yet built – is built from the ground up on a vision of a grimy, nightmarish future. Corporate surveyor androids and mechano-flesh cyber-constructs stalk the night, poverty is inescapable and even more grotesquely juxtaposed to the Elysian lives of the hyper-wealthy than it is now, and the only hope for better days ahead lies with small pockets of resistance that are carving out territories on the edge of the hyper-capitalist, hyper-branded, post-post-post-modern dystopia hell. (A lesser reviewer would say that Expander emphasize the “punk” in cyberpunk. I won’t but I want you to know I did think of it.) Expander grab you by the collar and drag you kicking and screaming into this world.
In another aggressive display, Expander also run straight up against the expectations one might have of science fiction-influenced thrash. This aesthetic area is dominated by bands who trade in an intelligent excess, like Watchtower’s mile-a-minute fusion-prog shred or Voivod’s polyphonic angularity. Expander, in what seems almost like intentional direct opposition, wield their music like a high-voltage vibro-cudgel, beating their listeners over the head with riff after riff after riff in an almost endless barrage of energy. Don’t take this as a sign of incompetence or insecurity, though; Expander have a subtle litheness to them that belies their collective experience with their instruments, they just choose to privilege the reptilian brain stem above the frontal cortex.
This isn’t to say, however, the band has no tricks up their sleeve: if anything, on Neuropunk Boostergang Expander lean a little further into the sort of perversely dark psychedelia that was present on Endless Computer. Even on total barnburners like “Hyper-Flesh Aedificium” and “Rejunkulizer,” guitarist Guzzler pulls out some leads wrapped in fiery, echoing reverb that help disentangle the mind from the constant speed of the record. Vocalist General Ham also deserves major credit for the performances all over Neuropunk Boostergang, which range from a sputtery rasp to a sort of half-singing yowl that feels reminiscent of the technique Doug Moore employs in Pyrrhon’s dirtiest moments.
When the band finds brief places to “slow down” and develop their wildly effective atmosphere, as on “Cryptosteal,” it becomes impossible not to smile and buckle in for whatever incoming blast of plasmatic heat Expander know is waiting around the next corner. The album’s final track, the mini-epic “Quest for a Future,” is worth the price of admission at least once in its own right; its eight minutes grow and grow towards a searing conclusion that ends the record on an unbelievable high note. Expander have mastered the trick of having just enough variation to stay interesting throughout while never losing sight of exactly what the audience wants: loud, bludgeoning guitars over machine gun tupa-tupa drums, with all the ruckus and splattery bombast of a Paul Verhoeven action scene.
If there is a criticism to be made of Neuropunk Boostergang, it’s that they certainly could have leaned harder into the opportunities that a sophomore LP represents and experimented more on various tracks. Everything that’s here is good, make no mistake, but this is pretty much as direct a followup as a band can provide: on the one hand, anyone worried that Endless Computer was lightning in a bottle can rest easy, but on the other, any naysayer to Expander is going to find absolutely nothing here to convince them to change their ways.
The main issue with Neuropunk Boostergang, then, is one of differentiation, both from their past incarnation and within the album itself. A higher lead guitar presence could have gone a long way in this regard, especially considering that Guzzler’s approach to a melodic voicing within his riffs is fairly singular, but with one guitarist there’s only so much that can be done in this area. And make no bones about it, Neuropunk Boostergang is still light-years away from being a bad album by any stretch of the definition.
Neuropunk Boostergang is a scrappy, violent, and loud set of songs that succeeds with flying colors at using the sonic register of metalpunk, along with a fair helping of thrash and some definite sludge influence, to draw the audience into Expander’s hyperspeed vision of the technicolor cyber-nightmare future. The record almost has more in common with a rollercoaster than other music. As much as Expander try not to paint their vision of the future as the one you’d want to live in, if that’s where they’re going, then hell, I’m along for the ride.
Expander are releasing Neuropunk Boostergang through Profound Lore Records on August 21st. Strap on your plasma goggles and get on your Akira bike, and get ready to blast the fuck off.