For a band that drives as much power and aggression into their performances as Brutus, their ability to channel that into urgent, emotionally charged melodies has always been their greatest strength. Within their consuming clouds of post-metal sound and raucous post-hardcore thrust is the heart of a pop group. That pop group can tear ass through throat-shredding moments of rage, like “Cemetery,” the seething standout from 2019’s Nest, or tense slow burners like its climactic counterpart, “War.” Even in their most bilious moments, Brutus never lose sight of the importance of the song—and as heavy music goes, accessible, hook-driven songwriting doesn’t come much stronger than theirs.
Unison Life is only a slight adjustment to Brutus’ well established ratio of hooks to heft, but a little often goes a long way. In the album’s lead single “Liar,” the group ease back slightly on the post-metal counterweight in favor of a radio alt-rock immediacy, driving like Paramore with an ample-sized chip on their shoulder. Stefanie Mannaerts still carries a bit of ferocious snarl in her voice when she sneers, “But for today, I am a liar,” but it’s as straightforward as Brutus has ever sounded, only a few small steps from their comfort zone, but the reward proves much greater than the change of course.
As much as Unison Life is a showcase for the band’s greater songwriting focus, its colossal atmosphere remains something to behold—that a trio alone can create something that feels like it could rip a seam in a stretch of solid concrete road. But Brutus has rarely ever been metal for metal’s sake (or post-hardcore for post-hardcore’s sake), and even when playing their hardest, as on the d-beat emo of “Brave,” there’s often a more playful approach happening within the storm. The same can be said of the relatively subdued, even beautiful “Victoria,” which lets more space into the band’s sound without leaving it feeling lighter.
Tension and contrast remain the driving forces in Brutus’ music—it’s what makes them unique and frequently thrilling. If they were just a heavy band, that’s sometimes not enough to stand out, but the same could possibly be said if you removed the thunder beneath their emotionally charged anthems. They hit that much harder than your standard indie rock band, cut that much deeper than most post-metal bands. It’s never quite apparent on first listen whether they’re going for the throat or the heart, but the same caveat applies: Brace yourself.
Label: Sargent House
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.