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Sweat’s melancholic art metal kicks ass, takes heart

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Early into the saturnine morning hours one weekend last August, a good crowd was still gathered inside Detroit's Trumbullplex after three excellent, if exhausting, sets of grindcore and sludge metal.

By the time New Jersey's Sunrot left the stage, it was hard to imagine a band squeezing any more energy, or attention, out of the room, but Flint's Sweat managed to up the intensity by sidestepping brute force for hypnotic, slow-burning grooves, and deliberate dynamics. And they were loud as hell.

Before starting "A Cutters Rapport," an obvious anthem from the band's new full-length album, Gloom Pride, vocalist and guitarist Krista Loutner gave the home-away-from-home-town crowd a heartfelt thanks for sticking around and sticking with the band as it struggled through the multiples setbacks — "hills and valleys" as she'd later call them by phone — of completing the album.

As album release shows go, this one actually felt like a band taking a breath and letting go. And with good reason. Getting here wasn't easy.

Loutner founded Sweat with drummer and longtime collaborator Aaron Reinhard late in 2011. Performing as a two-piece, the two built a name for their high-energy live shows and a "thrashy and kind of rock 'n' roll and vulgar" sound, as heard on debut full-length, Hema, released in 2013.

Hard-driving songs like "IFF" and "Valley Loft High School Bar" were meant to skewer the boozy strut they conjure, but sorting intent from pastiche isn't always easy, especially with riffs this goddamn big. It didn't always translate as intended.

"Most people are like, 'Let's get fucked up and be crazy,' and I'm literally talking shit about drunk mentality in general on that album," Loutner says. "I wanted it to sound hyped and bar-y, and I wanted it to make people want to move or whatever, but there's definitely a message."

For the follow-up, Loutner spent a winter experimenting with recording software and a room mic in a Flint basement to create a much softer and textured project that replaced fuzzy power chords and guttural screams with clean, washed-out picking, airy melodic vocals, and warm piano chords. She didn't plan on releasing any of it, but eventually did as an EP in 2015.

A single, 16-minute track, Sides is as vulnerable and sad sounding as Hema is cocky and angry. To Loutner, the obvious next step was to find a middle ground between the two, which ultimately became the melancholic, art-metal of Gloom Pride.

Self-recorded and produced by Loutner and Reinhard, again in "a hole-in-the-wall Michigan basement" in the winter, the album successfully blends the band's aggressive and insecure halves for a blown-out ode to embracing life in the face of anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts.

"For the most part, it's really just very much being honest with myself about relationships with people, relationships with depression, mostly about my own relationship with myself," Loutner says. "I touched on the topic of suicide, because I think it's something we all have in common. I know that's weird ... maybe it's just for a split second where you think about it and you don't even know why. It's just one of those things I think everybody has in common whether they want to admit it or not."

The project was nearly three years in the making, in part, due to mixing issues that came up because of how the album was tracked, with different instruments and sounds bleeding into each other. "It was a fucking nightmare trying to figure out how to make it sound listenable," Loutner says, laughing.

To make matters worse, halfway through the project, Reinhard decided to leave the band about a year ago. Loutner says the two are still friends, but there was a brief falling out, during which she wasn't sure if she'd be able to keep the name or even the files they'd been working on, despite having written all of the songs.

Eventually they sorted things out, and Loutner kept going with tracking, mixing, and putting together a lineup that could pull off this new, layered sound live. For drums, she turned to Valerie Klaft, formerly of local alt-rock band My Pal Val. The Detroit resident is the only member not from Flint. The two had been friends for a while after meeting at a show and had even done some music together on the side. When things started getting weird between Loutner and Reinhard, Klaft had encouraged her to keep going.

"The only thing I remember telling her was she owed it to herself to get this out," Klaft says. "Gloom Pride was too good not to do something with, and I thought everyone out there needed to hear what I was hearing."

From there, they filled out the sound with Kory Swedorski on bass and Eric Gerholz on second guitar. When they started playing the new stuff out, people took notice.

After catching a set together at the Hamtramck Music Festival, local record label owners Mark Coughlin and Stavros Glitsos approached the band about releasing Gloom Pride on CD as a co-release between Coughlin's long-running Saw Her Ghost Records (Beast in the Field, Temple of Void, Touch), and Glitsos' brand new Antimagic Media imprint.

"The first time I saw Sweat, I liked them immediately," Coughlin says. "There was a confidence there, a command of the stage and songs that really struck me. They were a three-piece at the time, and I remember the wall of sound that they created. It was devastating in all the best ways."

"Gloom Pride has such a variety of texture that it builds a big tent," Glitsos says. "It's a link between shoegaze, black metal, and post-rock-type noisier bands that I love."

That mix of sounds makes for some diverse bills. Recently, Sweat has headlined a night of noise-rock in Ypsilanti and opened for touring indie-pop band Cayetana at El Club. Next week, they'll hit the road for their first tour as opening support for Flint-based hardcore-metal band King 810.

Pairing with a perceived tough-guy band on a major label isn't a move that's going to necessarily make sense to everyone, especially in today's splintered political climate, but Loutner's not worried about what other people think. She's more interested in bridging a gap between what she sees as different facets of the same side.

"I grew up with them, and they're friends of mine, but their image is definitely way different than ours," she says.

"The reality is, we're both fighting the same war as far as being against racism, being against police brutality, and all of these things. They have a different view on what they do, but we actually do agree on quite a few different things."

And it's a huge break for a group of people who've paid plenty of dues.

"We've both been playing shows for like 15 years," Klaft says. "I've been playing drums since I was 6. This is a long time coming."

Sweat plays Fallout Fest V, Saturday, Oct. 7, at Ant Hall; 2320 Caniff St., Hamtramck; Doors at 7 p.m.; with Bars of Gold, the Handgrenades, and many more; Tickets are $10. All ages welcome.

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