On the same day that Big|Brave’s new album drops, we’ll also have new music from the likes of Abnormality, Possessed and Employed To Serve – hard-hitting bands each boasting their own strains of blistering extreme metal. Their maximalist approaches are thrillingly overwhelming and overwhelmingly thrilling, thriving off a frenzied potency. But there is also another route a band can take, one that’s just as captivating but relies more on sparse sections and prolonged build-ups. The minimalism of A Gaze Among Them, the brand new LP from Montréal drone rockers Big|Brave, is perhaps the best example of this you’re likely to find amongst one of the year’s most stacked release days.
The trio’s doomy, noise-laden sound certainly stands out amongst a crowded metal scene. “Originality and genre are something we never think of when writing music” vocalist and guitarist Robin Wattie tells us. “We conjure an idea, or a sound, and we let it take us where it wants to go without thinking of what it would be classified as. With that said, there are elements that we do share with metal – slowness, heaviness, loudness and ferocity – all key qualities in helping us achieve the soundscapes you hear in all our albums.”
Those soundscapes are certainly vast, aided by a minimalist approach that utilises rhythmic repetition but also driving, pounding drums and Wattie’s piercing, passionate vocals. Their music is free-flowing yet focused, moving ever-forward with clear purpose. The press release cites that on this new album, the band asked themselves the question “how do we take very little and make something bigger?” and this notion can be seen in the release’s boundless sonic plains, which show a knack for quiet restraint as often as they do crushing guitars, and which expand upon the exploratory sound the group established on previous recordings.
“The ‘making something bigger’ quote refers to the heaviness and loudness of the album,” Wattie explains. “Or at least what we perceive as the heavy elements of the album by making efforts in creating a sonically huge soundscape.”
The result was perhaps the band’s most challenging writing experience to date. In ensuring they progressed rather than regressed, the band prioritised space, tension and subtlety, building grand, dynamic tracks out of minimal notes instead of overthinking what their “logical” next step would be as a musical entity. “I don’t believe we purposefully set out to make the writing process harder for Mathieu [Ball, guitars] and I,” Wattie explains. “What happened was that in setting the concepts and goals we did, it unintentionally ended up being a somewhat difficult process. With that said, the end result is something that we are actually quite content with. I believe that any amount of work put into any project would impact and influence that finished LP. We worked our hardest (spent almost every day for hours on end in the rehearsal space writing for four months) and are actually continuing to fine tune the songs for our live performances.”
Such expansive songs are a far cry from the folk music the band originally created when they first formed, but Wattie admits that there “are some trains of thought and approaches to writing that have remained” from those days. “Perhaps even feel,” she adds. It’s almost hard to picture Wattie’s singing over folk music now. Her voice is immense, and certainly has the range, but it’s also commanding, and an integral part of Big|Brave’s powerful sound.
Those sonorous vocals, both imposing and poignant, are apposite for the topics discussed on A Gaze Among Them. Though Wattie notes that there is no one influence, her lyrics deal with “my reality moving through space, dealing with trauma, abuse, racism and sexism.”
It’s clear that the band pay keen attention to all aspects of their sound, from the intricate soundscapes to the lyrics, but they have also always been sure to pay attention to the visual side of a piece. Wattie and Ball come from visual arts background, with Wattie telling us that an artwork can make an album more of an art piece – “something to paw over and consume vs just a means of protecting the format the music is held.” This can certainly be seen on A Gaze Among Them, with its rich, somewhat vibrant and abstract cover containing the sort of image (a fire? A flower?) one can find themselves staring at whilst lost in a transcendent piece of music.
Ultimately, that’s what Big|Brave’s music does that many metal bands don’t – or can’t. It provides a transcendent listening experience, weaving majestic sonic tapestries that offer an enriching and cleansing catharsis rather than a violent one. This is best exemplified by the band’s empowering live shows, which they will be bringing to the UK later this month. If you’re heading to a show, Wattie tells us what you should expect: “I believe the essence of what we strive for sonically. Heavy, loud, catharsis.”
A Gaze Among Them is out now on Southern Lord. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr
Photos: Rachel Cheng