In one way or another, we’re all attuned to each other’s needs, desires, and search for meaning. It’s as if there’s this invisible thread crossing through each and every one of us like telephone lines, where convergence takes place from time to time. From international news and passionate Instagram reels to a conversation with a childhood friend at a cozy coffee shop on a cloudy afternoon, there exists a veiled awareness of shared love and suffering – simply put, of shared experiences. It’s all an overwhelming realization, though strangely reassuring. Unison Life, the third full-length album by Belgian post-hardcore trio Brutus, elicits such train of thoughts in me as they manage to craft a set of from-the-heart accounts of what it means to grasp onto the very center of life and take in its absurdities, pain, and beauty in the most sincere manner, to then offer it as a token of emotional advocacy, much like a lending of hand for those drowning in a sea ravaged by the darkest of uncertainties.
Brutus is a band that has quickly found rooting in various online music circles – and for good reason. With a debut release as strong as Burst on their hands and having a follow-up album like Nest, which outstandingly amplified the energy and sonic fervor found on the former, the trio had made a name for themselves and a styling of post-hardcore that always sounded fresh and strikingly authentic, never quite losing replay value. How is it, then, that the bars were raised so much higher with this third record in question?
After a couple of listens in, I’ve yet to come up with a solid answer. Unison Life is a visceral listen, only elevated by an engrossingly dynamic production and a musicianship that’s more tight-knit than ever before. Maybe it’s the fact that the entire tracklist is performed with a degree of conviction that’s immediately moving, or it could just simply be Brutus‘ infallible knack for refining their sound to a new, exciting potential. It might be all of the above (it’s obviously all of the above!) – I sure as hell sound like a total madman babbling about right now, though it’s noteworthy when an album is capable of leaving you as astonished as this, wouldn’t you agree?
The record came with full force from the very beginning, back when the band released its first teaser “Dust”. Preluding with a foreboding clean guitar passage that made way for a charging drum and bass onslaught, the song formally presents itself and, as vocalist and drummer Stefanie Mannaerts shouts the lines ‘I am so tired/ of everyone that’s breathing down my neck‘, I instantly became shellshocked. The way she delivers those lines with such desperation, matching graciously with the intensity from guitarist Stijn Vanhoegaerden and bassist Peter Mulders’ trademark shimmering devastation, I knew that this album was going to be a special one.
These bone-chilling soundscapes heard on “Dust” are the order of the day for Unison Life, channeling an exciting repertoire of post-hardcore, shoegaze, and alt-rock concoctions intertwined with an impassioned fury that makes each track feel more like heartfelt exchanges rather than just songs to passively listen to. Everything sounds on the edge here, and it is not of coincidence, for the album tackles the frustrations of isolation, belonging, complacency, and of the everyday struggles to survive for another day.
“Brave” combines the dichotomy of hardcore precision with crushing post-metal to bring an action-packed track that has some of Stefanie’s most intriguing vocal lines to date, exclaiming the distress of feeling left behind on a life-turned-rat race towards finding a greener grass. It creates an aperture for the pent-up emotions scattered throughout the album, making you palpably feel the seething, rage, and confusion just within reach. Songs like the aforementioned “Dust” and the rip-roaring “Liar” – with all its infectious guitar riffage and imposing bass tone – zoom into the individual and toy with this recurrent feeling of imperfection, and the consequent inability to combat that. Unison Life constantly fluctuates between full-blown surrender and an urgent need to be granted with any sense of normalcy that, at times, feel all too real. This is especially true for the melodic doom-tinged “Chainlife” (one of my absolute favorites), which displays an aural call-for-help that’s riddled with so much despair and regret that you’d just want to jump into the track and reach out to bring comfort.
Afraid to dive
Afraid to miss
There’s no limit to my fault
All I wanna do is talk‘
Still, the two songs that ultimately convinced me that this, indeed, was a special album were “Victoria” and “What Have We Done”. Musically, they might seem unassuming at first (both can be considered as the lightest out of the bunch) – nevertheless, the way these tracks resonated with me was too hard to ignore. They are cut from the same cloth of exhaustion, a solemn realization that the current state of things will, in the end, remain the same, no matter the efforts put into tackling it; a desolate rite of passage that we all tend to go through at some point in our lives.
The driving indie and borderline pop punk sound of “Victoria” brings a nostalgic aspect to this new understanding, signaling the often optimistic approach one has during their teenage years to uphold justice for themself and their loved ones in a world brimming with corruption and conformity. It’s a harrowing tale of seeing someone literally getting the shine in their eyes taken away by the second, ultimately opting to accept the cogs of a corroding machine continue their bidding. In fact, it’s curious how the namesake of the album is taken from the track’s heartbreaking lines ‘This is our unison life/My friend, this is the end‘, harkening back to what I mentioned in the beginning of the review, of how our actions and feelings tend to cause a greater collective impact than we’re usually made aware of. On the same note, however, its chorus instills a semblance of spark hidden deep in the bleakness of it all, suggesting that – after all – there’s still hope to cling onto.
‘Wake me up inside
When the light strikes again
There is another way to find
On my own I’ll meet you there
I’ll strike you every time‘
“What Have We Done” has a candid, almost townsfolk atmosphere to its ruminating yet urgent pacing that summates the overarching sentiment of Unison Life, also demonstrated on the following initial verses:
‘Once more we sing along
To this never ending song
Once more we carry on the pain
What have we done?
Once more we sing along
This never ending song
Once more we’ll dance the hurt away
What do you say?‘
Its melodies ache with much vehemence, pleading for action so as to not succumb to utter defeatism. The track essentially masquerades itself as a swan song that no one wants to take part of, but eventually are forced to due to the excruciating social conditions that led to this unfortunate ultimatum. Every instrumental passage and every line uttered are measured to ignite something: an emotion, a reaction, an ounce of effort to take some sort of first step to hold head up high in the face of idleness. It’s a powerful reflection of the reality we are currently living in, and poses as a communal exercise of raw expression because of it. Both of these songs will surely stick with me for a good, good while.
What is Unison Life if not a tale of the times? Asides from there not being a shortage of riffs, hooks, and overall instrumental chemistry, Brutus forged a collection of songs that serves both as an act of consolation and of sheer resistance. It’s a means of escape and simultaneously a necessary conduit to ground yourself in the wake of adversity. For them, no display of emotions is ever futile, and I believe that is an indispensable takeaway I have gathered after listening to the album repeatedly. I’m aware this will be record that I’ll treasure dearly for the remainder of the year (and maybe even more), as I’m sure it’ll be the case for many who have stumbled upon, and will stumble upon it – because, undoubtedly, this is a unison life. Witness the trio at their peak and relish at the greatness of it all.