One of the brightest new stars on the Southern Lord roster, Canadian trio Big|Brave are a breath of fresh air in the fields of both doom and drone, with a sound that certainly stands out amongst the herd. From the rhythmic, clanging guitars and wild, passionate vocals of Robin Wattie to the earth-shattering, pounding drums of Louis-Alexandre Beauregard, Big|Brave’s music is always free-flowing and full of urgency.
A Gaze Among Them, their fourth monstrous full-length of intense, noise-laden drone rock, is no exception. The album kicks off in very familiar territory, carrying over a similar sonic landscape to their previous masterworks Au De La and Ardor. ‘Muted Shifting Of Space’ sees those dirgy, fuzzy guitars crashing in straight away with no build-up, as the offbeat drums beat and smash around them. Robin Wattie’s vocals ring as magnificent as ever; a wailing siren lost in the music and the closest you’ll get to hearing Bjork front a metal band. Though this grand opening track is structurally rather similar in sound and approach to Ardor‘s spectacular opener ‘Sound’, Big|Brave manage to counterbalance those wonky, discordant guitars with some added glistening warmth that subtly rises into the mix, making this a prettier and more hopeful affair.
After kicking off with a banger, ‘Holding Pattern’ is more restrained in its approach, with Wattie’s alluring banshee voice emerging from a drone. Gradually a fast-tempo pounding kick-drum changes the direction of the song as roaring guitars rise and fall, weaving in and out of the excellent drum rhythms. Like many great Big|Brave tunes, this one feels semi-improvised, like a jam has been captured live to tape. But the album’s pièce-de-résistance is centrepiece ‘Body Individual’, starting with eerie, hovering guitar feedback that hangs in the back of the mix like an ominous vacuum. Wattie’s incredible vocals are gothic and haunting as she wails a stream of consciousness, floating above the crashing atmospheric cymbals. The tension mounts as the volume of the guitars escalates to breaking point when suddenly the song completely shifts as the most ridiculously cool and collected riff bursts out of nowhere in the ten-minute behemoth’s second leg. It feels like the grand moment that the album had been teasing, and comes across as the its most rigidly structured moment, as if all the pieces have suddenly fallen into place. This could just be the finest track that Big|Brave have even made.
A Gaze Among Them certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel for Big|Brave or change things up too drastically in terms of their sonic exploration and the way that the trio structure their music. Everything here will feel achingly familiar to long-term listeners albeit perhaps more minimalist, but what can’t be denied is that Big|Brave have honed all their strengths as musicians, in what results as their finest work to date.
It certainly helps that the album sounds so majestic – producer and recorder Seth Manchester captures everything with so much finesse and detail. From the wafting low-end and piercing feedback to Wattie’s powerhouse vocal gymnastics and the drums that sound out of this world, like capturing an earthquake in action. Manchester has certainly captured that Steve Albini effect, with everything sounding so vital, spacious and loud, with exceptionally well-recorded drums free of compression, thus totally capturing the rawness and energy of their live sound.
Big|Brave burst with so much life that you want to hang on to every moment; they have the power to make a repetitive single-note riff sound like the most devastating and intense thing ever performed.
A Gaze Among Them is out May 10th on Southern Lord.
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French