When Refused released The Shape Of Punk To Come in 1998, it blew the punk paradigm wide open as one of the few albums that can truly be said to transcend genre, way ahead of its time and one to whom the world at large is still playing catchup to today. Refused may not be that band anymore, particularly after the streamlining that came with their 2015 comeback Freedom, but the ripples of their opus can still be felt in virtually every corner of alternative music. Their influence has been imperative for Belgian trio Brutus, who started out life as a Refused tribute act before striving to create their own original material, and even then, the Swedes’ presence can still be felt all over debut full-length Burst.
As such, Burst is the sort of album that’s fascinating to dissect, regardless of its quality. Throughout the confines of it 40-minute runtime, Brutus colour their base template of hardcore with shades of everything from punk to indie rock to black metal, taking Refused’s ‘what’s-a-genre?’ approach and contorting it to fit their own needs. The result is a mightily imposing listen, one that isn’t exactly heavy but crushes with a constant intensity in a way that hasn’t been seen before, at least to this degree – yes, Burst may well be to atmospheric music what The Shape Of Punk To Come was to punk.
But for as loaded of a statement as that is, that’s not to say that Burst is flawless, as Brutus still have some spots that could do with some improvemen, mainly in the delivery. To be honest, the vocals feel as though they go nowhere, and though that might be an unfortunate case of circumstance – with vocalist Stefanie Mannaerts also on the drums it’s hard to pull off the sort of melodic performance she aims for without sounding shoddy – but when viewing Brutus as a whole unit, they’re a noticeable weak link, contrasting the reliably taut instrumentals with shrill cracks on Drive or an off-putting looseness on Not Caring. It also highlights how little is actually being said on this album, too. Clearly lyrics are low on Brutus’ priority list given how most of these tracks consist of little more than a few repeated lines, and while it’s possible to create some sort of lyrical direction by relying on underlying meanings, Brutus don’t really do that. Sure, the frustration buried within All Along is easy to excavate, but with tracks like Baby Seal, there’s so little there that it comes across as little more than insubstantial, memetic repetition (and even though it has been interpreted by some as a response to mankind’s destruction of the natural world, that’s seriously clutching at straws).
But there’s a fairly strong feeling when it comes to listening to Burst that the lyrics are intentionally put on the back burner, and the music itself is the real focal point. And when it comes to any impulses like that, it would be wise to follow them, as Brutus are easily some of the most limber and technically flexible musicians to come around in some time. Sonically, Burst falls into the no man’s land outside any sort of accessible conventions, and even though, again, this isn’t a heavy album, there’s such an immense weight to the way that Brutus play. It gives the likes of the creeping, sombre Bird or the thunderous six-minute closer Child a power that magnifies the very slight black metal influence, which itself is counterbalanced by Stijn Vanhoegaerden’s supersonic fretboard dashes on Crack / Waste, or the spiraling math-rock of Justice De Julia II, probably the closest this album even comes to be fit for mainstream-tuned ears. It’s almost avant-garde in its approach, shooting off in countless directions and staying on point in pretty much all of them, and with the thin coating of reverb that paints the vocals, it highlights the intensity of the playing even more.
It’s because of this that a similar career trajectory to Refused can be predicted for Brutus – stay as an underground cult act for most of their career before experiencing a huge resurgence further down the line. A bit more effort needs to be put in before then though, as Burst isn’t quite at the same level of groundbreaking as the Swedes’ classic album. Brutus are definitely on their way though, especially given how refreshingly different this debut is from pretty much anything else, without becoming lost in its own thoughts. If the distances that Brutus go on their debut are anything to go by, there’s plenty more where this came from.
For fans of: Refused, Rolo Tomassi, Cancer Bats
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Burst’ by Brutus is released on 24th February on Hassle Records.