It’s quite frankly amazing that Brutus have been given the sort of push they have. Even now when attitudes towards experimentation in music are far more welcoming that they were a few years ago, this sort of semi-instrumental fare blending elements of post-punk, prog, black-metal and hardcore feels fairly far from even the widest of catchment areas, and yet Brutus have been resoundingly embraced. It helps that their 2017 debut Burst was as good as it was, a decidedly weird album that consistently used that to its advantage and has only improved even more over time, but the increased profile and anticipation for something new has found Brutus at a stage that, upon the initial listens to that debut, few would’ve imagined they’d ever reach. And that’s definitely a good thing, especially for a band as off-kilter as they are, and if the lead-off tracks from Nest have proven anything, they’ve still got plenty of ideas in their locker going forward.
That’s why it can be a bit disorienting that, on the first listen at least, Nest comes across as slightly disappointing. Immediately it feels less dense than Burst for a start, and for a band like Brutus who’ve previously been so adept at weaving together sounds and tones into weird yet potent concoctions, it can be hard not to think this isn’t so much an advancement as a further wringing out of an already-drier creative cloth. But because Brutus are such a creative band, it’s not like Nest is even close to ending there. It’s not totally untrue to cite a lack of real forward motion here, but what the trio do with what they’ve already got feels like a progression in its own right, isolating a visceral core and running with it fast. For lack of a better term, this is mood music, only the mood is one of deep discomfort and frustration that, with each listen, Brutus unfold even more into another enthralling album.
That alone is the area where Brutus deserve the most credit, particularly in the way they’re able to condense such a wide gamut of sounds into easily-digestible tracks that still pile on the layers to really stand out. The seismic rumbles of tracks like Techno and Horde V might prove to be formidable in their own right, but fleshed out with Stijn Vanhoegaerden’s guitar work that morphs between black-metal fire and delicate shoegaze twinkles, Peter Mulders’ ever-sturdy basslines and especially Stefanie Mannaerts’ pounding drums and piercing, imitable vocals, they feel like much greater compositions rather than songs. That’s another great strength of how Brutus operate as well; these aren’t tracks that follow a particular song structure, and thus they end up driven by the motion and momentum they pick up along the way. It might sound messy on paper, but it lends a swirling propulsion to Django or a metamorphosing sense of beauty to Space and Sugar Dragon that really do feel entirely original. Coupled with production that doubles down wonderfully on atmosphere and still manages to avoid any sort of overly lightweight fluff that would easily slow it down, from a sonic perspective, Nest feels truly forceful and at the will of an ever-changing, ever-evolving idea that’s unlike the vast majority of modern rock in every way.
That’s some high praise indeed, and it could be easy to presume that the lack of focus on similar lucidity in the writing would be where Brutus’ greatest hang-up stands, but that feels like the point here. Again, Nest is all about the mood, and an unashamedly simplistic approach to lyricism that puts it a fair way back in terms of importance is probably the best way to convey that. There’s enough power in Mannaerts’ vocals to push that forward anyway, and while range isn’t necessarily on the agenda, it doesn’t have to be. It’s easy to pick up on the vibe and run with it in the same way as the instrumentation, be that cathartic, almost exasperated expulsions on Techno and Distance, or far more reserved, delicate notions of vulnerability and lowness on Carry and War. At their core, they’re incredibly simple emotions delivered in a simple way, but that fits the mood that Nest is trying to foster, and for their purpose, it closes Brutus’ loop with efficiency that’s easy to pick up on.
Because of all of that, it almost makes Nest come across as an album that defies real criticism. After all, for as ambitious as Brutus are in their music vision, at the end of the day, it stirs out emotions by the truckload, and has thus succeeded in its job. But even among that, the detail in the continuously shapeshifting mass that is Nest is a sight to behold, refusing to stay still and pressing on in whatever way it feels necessary at the time. It’s rare to get albums that feel as off-the-cuff as that, but Brutus have done a fantastic job at it here, continuing to cement themselves as one of the most exciting bands on the planet, and for good reason.
For fans of: Rolo Tomassi, Refused, Oathbreaker
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Nest’ by Brutus is released on 29th March on Hassle Records.