If it’s not the heaviest sound in the universe, that of a single chord ringing out from one of Big|Brave‘s two guitars is at least a close second. No band in the sphere of heavy music does more with less, the Montreal trio’s sonic ideal built around deceptively minimal means and boundless roar—a kind of earth-shaking vibration that vocalist Robin Wattie likens to an “interesting body massage.” For an approach bound by very specific limitations, though, Big|Brave have never felt limited themselves, having undergone an evolution from massive drones on 2017’s Ardor to a hook-driven approach on 2019’s A Gaze Among Them and onto something more abrasive and full-throated on 2021’s Vital, all created within the minimalistic framework upon which the band was founded.
Contrary to expectations, it was a collaboration with a comparably loud band—their 2021 album with The Body, Leaving None But Small Birds—that shook them loose of one-chord devastation. The two bands unclicked their fuzz pedals (for the most part), scaled back and looked to the songbooks of English and Appalachian folk for inspiration. What resulted unlocked a new aspect of Big|Brave’s music (as well as that of The Body), guiding them along a new path defined as much by open space as the dark rumbling of their low-end drones—and often more than one chord. Arriving a little over a year after that unlikely experiment, nature morte finds Big|Brave returning to their deafening surge with the melodic primitivism and storytelling of folk music woven throughout the feedback and fuzz.
Where a purity of concept once drove Big|Brave’s music, on nature morte—their first to be released through Thrill Jockey—they’ve changed the rules a bit without sacrificing any of their sonic identity. A song such as “a parable of the trusting” is something that truly only Big|Brave can do, a massive surge of distortion rising up between moments of tense, hanging openness, clanging percussive noises and Wattie’s narrative of internal damage wrought from a misogynistic society (“no one ever really sees a body loathing, nor the perversion of an entire being with their mind self-harming“). They gradually come to close those gaps with devastating impact, easing into a percussive sequence of metallic repetition from drummer Tasy Hudson that feels almost like the band’s take on industrial. They make the most of their nine minutes and change, but they’re never in any rush to get there, giving every note its due attention and expected weight.
There’s an undeniable aggression here that feels more pronounced. How the band fit into the overall spectrum of metal before was mostly a matter of perspective, but they offer more than a few reminders of the intensity of which they’re capable. Few carry such a visceral presence as opener “carvers, farriers, knaves,” lurching forward with an arsenal of noise and some of Wattie’s most throat shredding vocal performances as she screams, “Hacking and cutting away! Hacking and butchering away!” It takes a little longer reach such a climax in the stunning “the fable of subjugation,” wherein Wattie sings from the perspective of a man whose desire for possession harbors a simmering violence (“because your beauty is so hard to hold your force… so lawless and rash, allow me to prevail over all your lure“). But once it arrives, propelled by Hudson’s martial tom-tom rumble, it’s among the most glorious eruptions they’ve ever summoned.
Big|Brave have never been a band to shy away from quieter moments, though when they have arrived, as on A Gaze Among Them‘s “This Deafening Verity,” they’ve sometimes felt more like brief interludes. Yet on “my hope renders me a fool” and “ten of swords,” each of them a more concise and muted piece that ends each of the album’s two acts, the group flex their ability to take on material fit for candlelight more than towering infernos. The former is the album’s sole instrumental, feeling a little light a more melodic permutation of the material on guitarist Mathieu Ball’s recent solo release, while “ten of swords” is a chilling and hushed epilogue, its haunted atmosphere reminiscent of Songs: Ohia’s own eerie Ghost Tropic.
As a band that often makes great strides in small steps, the distance Big|Brave cover on nature morte feels vast. There’s as much texturally to experience as there is musically, and the subtleties between the cleansing blasts of sound are as compelling and satisfying as those moments when they’re bashing the fuck out of everything. Of course, those moments—the ones in which they sound heavier than a comet punching a hole through the earth—are as glorious as ever.
Label: Thrill Jockey
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.