BIG|BRAVE have always sounded like the moving of mountains to me, the flooding of entire lands; something so profoundly divine and purgative that it’s hard to describe, but easy to feel. Unfortunately for me, that’s exactly what I’m here to do: describe. Fortunately, I really like this album, just as I have the last two I reviewed, and will otherwise have a fun time trying to do just that with this new one.
nature morte (literally ‘dead nature’) is a French term for still life, something exhibited in the darkly detailed and vivid cover art for this album. It’s about capturing the mundane in such a way as to play to an aesthetic, or arrange objects and things in a manner that’s symbolic or carries a specific meaning. In a way, it’s the sort of thing that BIG|BRAVE do best with their trotting post-metal that has elements of drone, noise, doom, and even some gazey accoutrements. What may appear to be mundane at first – repetition through execution – speaks to a wider meaning, or acts as a vehicle for a wider meaning through lyrics.
For a trio, this band makes an absurd amount of noise. They are one of the loudest bands I’ve personally heard. Between vocals, guitars (not bass though), and drums, BIG|BRAVE summons some ridiculous walls of noise with pounding rhythms and crunchy melodies (that really just sound like more rhythms half the time), and it all pervades so expertly, radiating you to the core, vibrating your molecules. It took a while, but it’s what I now love about them the most; their ability to bypass just about any defense of yours and get to your raw center, physically and emotionally.
In that sense, nature morte really is akin to its namesake, instilled with the evocative execution of high art without the pretentiousness or elitist attitude. In fact, BIG|BRAVE are for the common people – particularly the suppressed, oppressed, and exploited among us – with vocalist/guitarist Robin Wattie penning short, poetic narratives for their music’s insurmountable weight to carry forth. Even on this, the band’s fifth (non-collaborative) album, they seem so intent on pushing further, deeper, harder, inward, outward, just maximizing all that they are – bigger and braver.
Nowhere is that more apparent than “carvers, farriers and knaves”, an opening track that doesn’t even allow an orientation before splintering you with its cacophonous sound, the least of which being Wattie’s caressing vocal timbre. No matter how harsh things get, you can always count on Wattie’s singing to be the eye of the storm, even as she wails and screams during some moments. This track has the most enveloping noise pocket I’ve heard the band perform, so loud that I actually had to turn my volume down. Tasy Hudson’s drums lead the charge with piercing splashes and strikes while Mat Ball and Wattie’s guitars murmur underneath. The lyrics during this part and the rest of the track haunt – ‘hacking and cutting away/hacking and butchering away‘ – referencing a force that only takes with violence. It’s so damn powerful.
“the fable of subjugation” has similar energy in the back half, but in a more palatable form. Hudson’s drums still lead the way with the guitars and vocals wailing together. It’s obsessive and distraught, lost in infatuation with its subject to the point of festering, unhealthy, though not explicit violence (‘i am the one who wants you more/i am the one who needs you most/i am the man who loves you more/i am a man and i need you too‘). The strength in the instrumentation mixed with the lyrics make for a militant, off-putting track, but a sturdy one all the same, shedding light on a toxicity that’s rarely named appropriately (please understand physical striking is not required to meet the definition of violence or abuse). Every BIG|BRAVE track feels held up by the most indominable bones imaginable and that’s no different here, even as it births a shaky unease inside you.
“my hope renders me a fool” is the lone instrumental song on nature morte and it’s one of the most evocative songs period from BIG|BRAVE. It feels absolutely woeful, steeped in miseries unknown with its deep and downtrodden dueling guitars, one seemingly mimicking a convulsing sob while the other rams a sickly dirge into your heart. Drums appear completely absent as the track focuses on density and flow rather than rhythm or time; it’s almost like time itself melts away while listening to “my hope renders me a fool” and is eulogized with much cleaner and quieter guitar at the end.
When the final track “the ten of swords” rings out, you’re faced with a myriad of feelings. It’s a poignant closer, the likes of which you’d expect from the trio, but its title alone begs a question: what is the point? Those like me who are unfamiliar with tarot and divination in general will need to know that the Ten of Swords is a card that can mean several things, but most are intrinsically linked. If the card is pulled and presented upright, it signals heavy loss, betrayal, and pain. If reversed, it beckons forth healing and recovery, or even resistance to inevitability. This song is sparse, as if purposefully more empty so we are left to our own thoughts. The vocals and pensive guitar prod us along, but never wrest us away from our seats like previous songs. It’s peaceful while retaining a mournful air. The song itself is transitional, representative of the pain of the past, acknowledging what must be done in the present, so that we may enjoy a prosperous future or at least one without torment, something increasingly hard to comprehend and manifest.
nature morte feels like an arc, one informed by personal experience and circumstance just as other BIG|BRAVE pieces have been. This one feels different though. I get the sense that the band really chose to drudge up some things buried away from before, taking a lancet to previous wounds and scars to bleed them of the embedded poison and toxicity they closed up with. It feels like the signaling of a new era for them, and it sounds like some of the best work they’ve ever done. So much is said and intimated here, but not by sprawling, epic choruses or melodies packed with digestible and catchy riffs, but sundering, rolling, consuming noise that pries you open and sings your trauma to sleep. Honed to an unfaltering point, this is an album that has everything needed to be a profound moment in heavy music, and make BIG|BRAVE true forerunners of its future.