Channelling sparsity and distortion, tribal drums and gothic vocal sorcery is BIG|BRAVE—a spine-chilling trio whose sound mimics a billowing black cloud of smoke from a pagan sacrificial fire. If that’s your bag, gear yourself up for emotional pathos on nature morte.
Visceral snarls from the clashing guitars and the hair-splitting laments of Robin Wattie are the solid cornerstone here, but it’s no wonder given the making of the outfit. Originally planned as a minimalistic folk project duo, Wattie and Mathieu Ball’s acoustic instruments failed. Serendipity would have it that colossal amps, full of aggressive noise, would best channel their strained tales. Once on Southern Lord, founded by similar feedback-as-ritual cloak donning stalwarts Sunn0))), it fit their brand of newfound gnarliness. Not to mention the Quebec band’s collaborations with both The Body and Seth Manchester, parts of the same moody doom circles.
With Manchester’s sound palette and the musicians’ (mostly) live recording session taking place in only a week, there’s both moments of restrained grandeur, then all-out ballast. There’s no hanging about with opener carvers, farriers and knaves; Wattie’s haunting voicebox starts us out with “IT CLAIMS YOU!”, preceding a clamour of shrieking noise from vocals to instruments. the one who bornes a weary load, far removed from its connotations with some sort of medieval Friends episode, instead spotlights jangly frantic strings. At first anyway. Marking the first of three nine-minute tracks, its building textures seem to come and go as they please, leaving you all tattered and sore. At once a beast gnashing its teeth, other times going for a dream snooze in the field of wheat sheafs. It’s agonising stuff, controlled masterfully to, basically, terrorise you.
Likewise, beguiling and off-kilter the fable of subjugationstarts as an all-encompassing folkloric song that erupts into a full blown fury, complete with choice drum pounds from Tasy Hudson. Wattie’s lyricism, which draws on holistic aspects of femininity, as well as masculine dominance and its ensuin trauma and pain throughout history, is fully on show across the epic. “It is violent and terrible / It is crushing and alarming / It is common and basic,” says Wattie. “It is catastrophic and disheartening.”
Many of these tracks are fashioned into a traditional spoken-word poetry style, haunting fairy tales that uncannily mimic real life. Like nature morte—the French term actually used for still life paintings—there’s a strangeness to the lived experience, caught in suspended motion. The record seems to stop for reflection regarding that futility on the aptly named my hope renders me a fool. While a touching two-chord progression hovers ambiently underneath layers of screaming feedback, its persevering beauty finds itself free at the end of the piece.
Picking up former ground, a parable of the trusting clammers with industrial soundscapes and meditative guitars, while Wattie utilises her vocal range to hurry the slowed background with a more serious sense of urgency. This, inevitably, becomes a heavy wall of blasted distortion in its middle section, brought down to a simmer while we all regain breath. As the group closes out proceedings with the soothing balm of the ten of swords, you know you’re recovering from the wild, harrowing ride.
The work with The Body on Leaving None But Small Birds helped craft this collection, and it shows. The tension-building storytelling best left to ferocious guitars and loud, loud amplifiers is drone’s secret weapon, and the group’s knack for beguiling and introspective storytelling serves this effort well. If you brace yourself for the implosions, the catharsis will hit the hardest.
For fans of: Sunn0))), Chelsea Wolfe, Thou
‘nature morte’ by BIG|BRAVE is released on 24th February on Thrill Jockey.
Words by Elliot Burr