It’s getting really hard to tell what’s real and what’s been pulled from a young adult dystopian novel these days. I’m pretty sure we started living in the future about 5 years ago, what with all the rapid technological and scientific advancements coupled with the rise of authoritarian governments and oligarchic corporations spying on and tracking every move we make and everything we say and think. If all this seems overwhelming to you, good news! You’re far from alone, and chief among your allies is Austin, Texas’ Expander, whose new release Neuropunk Boostergang is the perfect soundtrack to the technopocalypse.
Expander have been taking a futuristic approach to their brand of punk-influenced thrash (thrash-influenced punk?) since 2014, playing in and around Austin before becoming more widely known with Endless Computer. Neuropunk Boostergang sees the squad make the pilgrimage to Salem, MA, and God City studios to record once more with the inimitable Kurt Ballou for this, their sophomore release. Returning are the usual suspects of crunchy, ferocious riffs and lightning fast drums coupled with big hardcore bass breaks, but Expander never quite do exactly what you would expect with them. Instead, they blend with eerie, atmospheric melodies that soar and cut like drones in the sky and huge, nausea-inducing panic chords, and booming growls that sound like they are garbled through a gigantic megaphone or the speakers of a giant screen in a bustling downtown city center. There is something very futuristic about the way they throw little pockets of uneasy melody in the middle of a more traditional thrash sound, or the way the guitars drop out altogether and the bass and drums pound at half time while a disembodied voice bellows commands at you. It’s equal parts raw emotion and robotic fury, which is exactly the vibe that Expander wants to convey. “Should we retain our humanity in the face of constant neurological assault? Is the physical body altogether obsolete? What otherworldly landscapes plagued by grotesque overlords will we find ourselves surviving next?” These are the questions Expander explore on Neuropunk Boostergang, and the answers are just as complex and hard to define as the music is.
One thing is immediately apparent upon starting Neuropunk: this is not the thrash of the past. Bands like Power Trip and Municipal Waste do a great job of capturing that old-school thrash vibe, and god knows I’m here for it, but Expander take it, sonically and lyrically, into the next generation. “Wretched Warez” opens the album with sickening, discordant chaos in the guitar lines before “Megacorp” takes off with reckless abandon, juggernauting through throbbing, headbanging hardcore. “Hyper-flesh Aedificium” rolls with a punkier, four-on-the-floor vibe until the guitars suddenly drop into a spacey melody that whirls and twists through the ether, and all of a sudden, it’s like you’re listening to a completely different song. The way that Expander can master the subtle art of killer riffs and pounding drums, then stop on a dime and throw something completely unexpected at you is what sets them apart and deepens the unique, futuristic sound of which they seem to be the sole purveyors.
The world may be going down in flames all around us, but at least with Neuropunk Boostergang we know that the future still has a little bit of hope and lots of nasty riffs in it. Expander keep on pushing the boundaries of what thrash and hardcore is capable of, and they manage to do it in a way that makes them a truly unique force in the scene. More than a gimmick, the otherworldly vibe they curate tells a story and, in the way that all great sci-fi does, helps us survive just a little longer. Plus, it’s cool as hell.