Album Review: BIG|BRAVE — “nature morte”

Big Brave - nature morte

It should be no secret here that we have all been eagerly awaiting nature morteBIG|BRAVE is a band that fits into the nebulous space between metal and experimental, between crushingly heavy and ethereally light in a way that few of their peers manage to navigate successfully.  There seems to be no stopping their wild and creative tear they’ve been on, especially 2021’s double whammy of Vital and their collaboration with fellow game-changers The Body, it’s been a long time coming for their follow-up, but a lot has also happened, personally and globally, that has shaped nature morte into being.

In my humble opinion, the last few albums of BIG|BRAVE’s career have been some of the best they have ever done.  Especially of interest to me was 2021’s Leaving None But Small Birds, their collaboration album with the masters of collaboration, The Body.  Apparently this experience rubbed off on BIG|BRAVE as much as me, because songwriter/singer/guitarist Robin Wattie took a lot of inspiration from that session for nature morte (a French term for still life paintings, literally translated as “dead nature”).  The songs this time around borrow heavily from the folk tales they wrote and reimagined for Small Birds, with narratives that are much more story-like and thematic, with morals and values laid out bare.  nature morte deals very heavily in dark subject matter, like all BIG|BRAVE albums do, this time theming around the folly of hope, the consequences of trauma and the subjugation of femininity.  Likewise, the music might be the band’s darkest and heaviest yet, although not in the ways you might think.  Yes, of course, there is the classic wall of noise that embodies BIG|BRAVE’s signature droning style, but the use of space here is what really makes this album a profoundly disquieting listen.  nature morte is an album all about dichotomies, both lyrically and musically, and the sounds on this release ping-pong between both ends of the extremes.  The noise is so much noisier, between the dueling guitars of Wattie and co-guitarist Mathieu Ball, the pounding percussion of drummer Tasy Hudson and Wattie’s iconic anguished wail, but the album really comes to life when the noise stops and the silence breathes; when it gets just a little too quiet for a little too long and the discomfort starts to set in, you feel every ounce of anguish and dread just the same as when the feedback screeches directly in your ear.

The expert use of space on nature morte reminds me a lot of another brilliant album from 2021, Kowloon Walled City’s Piecework.  Both of these are albums that speak volumes by the use of space, by holding back when they could push the volume up.  Instead, the space gives the songs a chance to tell the story they set out to tell, for the journey to be laid bare.  The interplay between guitars and drums is so incredibly potent here.  All it takes is a sudden stop on the guitars to make room for an earth-shattering tom hit and suddenly you feel like you’ve been punched square in the chest.  And hey, it’s also worth noting that the notes they do play are pretty impressive too.  One of my favorite things about listening to a BIG|BRAVE album is the intentional and deliberate way they pick and choose their distortion and fuzz tones.  They truly are connoisseurs, and the huge variety of tones they use to incredible and varied effect is something that a gear collector can only dream of.  In “my hope renders me a fool” alone, there are so many different incredible guitar tones, and all of them weave in and out of each other to tell a complete story in nothing but distortion and feedback.  It is truly astounding what they can do with what some people would condescendingly refer to as “just noise”.

Apparently, nature morte was recorded live in the studio, so like…when are we going to get to see it live?  Because now all I can think about is getting my head blown up Scanners style, by a wall of feedback and thundering drums.  nature morte is not to be slept on.  You probably knew this already, but it really cannot be overstated how impressive BIG|BRAVE have been in the last two years.  This is a highlight of an already stacked discography. 

— Ian

nature morte will be available February 24 on Thrill Jockey.  For more information on BIG|BRAVE, visit their official website.

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