Vital by Big|BraveRelease date: April 23, 2021
Label: Southern Lord
Big | Brave has been on my periphery for a few years but I never found a way into the music which so many celebrated. When Vital popped up on the list for review I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to do so, and my time has been richly rewarded. Vital continues on the band’s path of traversing a little trodden middle ground between doom and drone and truly lives up to its title. Covering topics including race, gender, endurance and protest; the release is another stunning example of the richness, profits and benefits of diversity in the scene and Vital has moments no others could touch.
It didn’t take me long to discover why my previous fleeting listens had robbed me of this musical wonder as there are a few areas that require full attention. I thought ‘Of This Ilk’ was two separate songs whilst listening when out walking, but when actually paying attention I discovered the true greatness. There is an initial slow repetitive riff which plays over anguished vocals and when it drops off midway there is a silent 10 second gap before it comes back with a sense of urgency and renewed power. The crazy thing about the song, and album, is that whilst the music is extremely powerful it is complemented yet trumped by the lyrical content and vocal delivery.
‘Of This Ilk’ deals with the painful personal experiences of guitarist and vocalist Robin Wattie as she sings and screams about the process and pressure surrounding skin bleaching. Whilst the words are not sung in an overtly clear manner the delivery and video give more than enough idea as to the ritual pain inflicted to “achieve this exclusive coveted lightness, whiteness”. It is a really powerful moment and one that certainly opened my eyes to a subject matter that I had never really considered.
That double heaviness, musically and topically, runs through a majority of the tracks and second song ‘Half Breed’ is no exception. Again there are bursts of guitar offering an extreme quiet/loud dynamic which punctuate an outstanding vocal delivery along with drones and short chords which cut away with the drum beats. This curtness is actually delivered in a very warming guitar tone which is complementary to the vocals yet contradicts the content which adds to the power of the narrative. ‘Half Breed’ flows superbly well from opener ‘Abating The Incarnation Of Matter’ yet manages to rise to another level. There is a moment of calm in the middle of the album, ‘Wilted, Still and All…’ is a serene droning interlude between the heaviness on either side and gives a nice impact to the start of ‘Of This Ilk’.
Simply put Vital is a staggering record. Once I understood the ground it was standing on and gave it some proper attention it made so much sense. The lyrical themes are so powerful that the emotion permeates any silence and the outcome is absolutely staggering and eye opening. Similar to Divide and Dissolve’s album Gas Lit, Vital is one of the year’s most essential listens.