Yikes! Screamy capitals and an upright dash instead of spacing… Just to be up-front: we don’t like how Big Brave officially stylized their name. So, like many fellow writers around the web we will also have taking some liberty to write BIG|BRAVE in our own manner which will simply be Big Brave from now on. That’s enough whining from our side for now. Let’s quickly introduce the band and then focus on the very noteworthy Vital, Big Brave’s fifth full album.
Big Brave is rooted in Montreal and was founded as a minimalistic folk outfit by Robin Wattie and Mathieu Bernard Ball in 2012. The duo quickly became a trio when drummer Louis-Alexandre Beauregard joined. With Beauregard in their ranks they aimed to widen their drive to experiment within the ambient-folk genre but instead the opposite happened when Wattie’s acoustic guitar broke. Wattie got her hands on an electric one as a loan and had to bring in considerable amps to use them. From that moment amplifying power became a part of the band’s experiment. On earlier works loudness, minimalism, structure and freedom are carefully balanced together in coherence. Vital is a new chapter in these compositional explorations, so let’s have a listen to what Wattie and friends came up with.
In the past years Big Brave took different approaches to their loud-tranquil experiments. Whereas the first albums were predominantly noisy and dark, their last effort, 2019’s A Gaze Among Them, offered a brighter array of sounds. Vital does continue in that fashion by adding more subtle textures such as strings and chimes. Yet the band also regroups around their Au De La (2015) dark big chord drone versus strong tender-haunting vocal fundamentals. Big Brave therefore are rightfully mentioned in the same breath as Sunn O))) and Swans.
On Vital the most ominous drone track is the title track which also wraps up the album. If you enjoy Sunn O))) you’ll probably link up with the low drones on Black One or the more ecclesiastical Monoliths and Dimensions. Vital’s closing track wouldn’t look out of place on one of these albums. The slow build up with a gloomy tolling bell sets up Wattie who deepens the ghostly tone with a short poem. After her spoken singing, the building guitars crunch down and Big Brave attacks your speakers in full force. A superb listen if you ask us, especially as a closer. Still, we have to say that the low drone build up, vocals and relentless sound mass, a too methodically placed and feel, if it wasn’t for Wattie’s gripping voice, a bit too familiar. Like earlier work Vital still stands on the shoulders of the pioneers in the industrial metal scene. The Swans reference is best heard on Half Breed and Of This Ilk. Here thick layers of distortion go hand in hand with relentless percussion which are obvious Michael Gira trademarks. It is however too shallow to only measure Big Brave by the standards of others.
As said the band continues to compose well thought out music that balances between very heavy and the quiet. Vital offers more details than its predecessors. If you take your time there is much to discover between the heavy riffing and lingering droning. Big Brave expertly uses silences to break down their slowly built structures only to return with new energy. Abating the Incarnation of Matter and especially Of This Ilk are prime examples. Close listeners will also pick up the aforementioned textures, bells, wind chimes, cymbals and acoustics all play their part throughout the album. Big Brave’s minimal side is best heard at the midpoint of Vital. On Wilted, Still and All… the band converges various delicate textures into a dark ambient interlude. It’s the only true moment on Vital that shows the roots of the band.
Robin Wattie’s voice always was and still is the main reason why the band has an edge on other drone bands. On Vital she once more displays her vocal range in the most exquisite manner, pending up emotions and letting them all out. Thematically Wattie addresses complex topics such as identity, self esteem and the downsides for people who have to deal with cultural pressure. When you buy a copy of Vital you’re not only buying great music, you’re also buying a message that is not lightly digested.
Vital is an incremental step forward in Big Brave’s minimal to loud experiment. Big chords are compositionally more centered now but there is no further new modus operandi. Lyrically however the band takes a more daring approach by dropping filters and addressing personal struggles in an most expressive manner. Big Brave unleashes a lot of anger, beautiful anger that is. Wattie’s voice is in top shape and so makes Big Brave one of the most compelling heavy outfits in recent years.
In the end it doesn’t matter if you add an upright dash or not, with Vital under the belt Big Brave still lives up to their name. Without any doubt Vital is one of this year’s essential listens, even if you’re not into Southern Lord’s catalogue.
Label: Southern Lord, 2021
Buy it here: http://www.bigbrave.ca/releases/
- Abating the Incarnation of Matter (7:22)
- Half Breed (8:08)
- Wited. Still and All… (4:22)
- Of This Ilk (9:36)
- Vital (9:08)
Review by Wander Meulemans // 110821