If nothing else the release of nature morte, the sixth album from the Montreal post metal unit BIG|BRAVE, is a testament to the band’s stamina and stoic dedication to their work. Exploring the challenging frontiers of drone-shaded, slow core, electric rock since 2014 and still discovering cracks of inspiration is a tough pursuit but that’s what BIG|BRAVE do, time and time again. nature morte, available from 24th February on Thrill Jockey, is the latest categorical proof of their enduring creativity.
Yes this new BIG|BRAVE offering continues as resolutely heavy music, sonically, conceptually and lyrically. Ever since core members Robin Wattie (vocals/guitar) and Mathieu Ball (guitars) experienced a ‘loud can be quiet’ epiphany over a decade ago, ditching the acoustics and plugging in, their elemental sound has set the aerobatic thrill of Wattie’s singular voice within a swirling storm of riffs, distortion and pummelling rhythms. On nature morte those foundations may remain essential but as usual the band have tried to recalibrate and reconstitute for an even broader impact.
Maybe their collaboration with electronic metal contortionists The Body on 2021’s ‘Leaving None But Small Birds’ increased BIG|BRAVE’s own confidence to push the experimental onwards? Or perhaps Wattie’s immersion in the dark narrative and emotive melodies from folk tradition on that same album has permeated through to the song craft here. Certainly throughout nature morte the combination of structural integrity and sonic daring has prompted BIG|BRAVE to make possibly their boldest statement to date.
From the off, carvers, farriers and knaves makes that very case. There is no warning, a startling lurch into a cranking guitar chord and Wattie’s stark announcement ‘it claims you’ marks the start. It’s as if we have burst into someone’s deepest thoughts. Once inside you gradually align with the sound as it oscillates from pounded sheets of guitar noise to an ominous riff driven stomp and onto a cataclysmic conclusion. Wattie’s curdling distress as she screams each final ‘away’ feels chillingly exposed.
That BIG|BRAVE can stretch such tension even tighter without imploding signifies a band with remarkable intuitive awareness. They have a deft sense of how to blend the minimal and maximal, to skirt the edge of distortion without tipping the listener over the edge. the one who bornes a weary load makes a sharp Fugazi-like switch from clanging monotone intro onto swelling reverb waves before the ultimate crunches. Drummer Tasy Hudson as ever emphasises more than power here, defining the emotional turns that the song takes and conducting the trio’s combined energetic surges. Sticks person and baton wielder, it’s a massive contribution.
However BIG|BRAVE don’t rest on single contributions, they are most definitely a collective. For sure Wattie’s searing vocal and poetic urgency is key and Matthieu Ball’s sonorous imagination crucial but this is a group of musicians on finely woven wavelengths. How else could you explain the pulsing grandeur and precision shocks of a parable of the trusting or the feral electric blues of the fable of subjugation, where the switch from a PJ Harvey zoned prologue to black metal descendancy then back is simply immense. Without doubt as a lyricist Robin Wattie is revealing something deeply personal in these songs but they are framed by music made with others who listen, care and can be trusted.
On nature morte the pain of oppression, the damage of disempowerment, the subjection of racial and gender identity by the dominant again tears at the band’s soul. These are beyond mere ‘issues’ with Wattie’s lyrics pushing down into the inner turmoil of living in a world of “creed cultured by clan”. It feels like this time around her poetry is more visceral and violent, steeped in the graphic metaphors of dark folk tales and conceived beyond the usual song form as ’a parable’ or ‘fable’. Amidst the real angst and hopelessness that drive Wattie’s extraordinarily raw vocal performance there lie some stark warnings and maybe some resolution.
Such emotional density underpins the expansion of BIG|BRAVE’s soundscape on this latest work. The granulated complexity of the noise ambient my hope renders me a fool brings some cathartic suspension as the Fennesz-fluid atmospherics distil into a mournful lone guitar pattern. It’s more than a pause. Similarly closing track the ten of swords provides a reflective coda to underscore the album’s intensity. The song has a mythical, magical spirit, gothic folk toned with a flourish of melody, all tumbling guitars, whispering percussion and Wattie’s yearning voice, pensive and watchful right up to the closing couplet. “all it births is grave hurt” draws a thought-provoking line under an exceptional record.
In many ways nature morte represents a pinnacle for the band, an album that they have been working towards for a decade or more. Once again empathically recorded by BIG|BRAVE’s long-standing fellow sound traveller Seth Manchester at machines with magnets, it captures their live energy without losing focus. The title translated may suggest ‘nature’s dead’ but it can also refer to ‘still life’. There’s a double meaning here, a complexity that music as honest as BIG|BRAVE’s can help us confront.
Get your copy of nature morte by BIG|BRAVE from your local record store or direct from: https://bigbravesl.bandcamp.com/album/nature-morte