nature morte by BIG|BRAVERelease date: February 24, 2023
Label: Thrill Jockey
Throughout their relatively short career, Montreal’s BIG|BRAVE have been one of heavy music’s most unique, prolific and consistently stunning forces. Across five solo full-lengths and a surprisingly subdued collaboration with fellow noisemongers The Body, they’ve combined towering walls of distortion, unbridled emotion and primal percussive displays in so many combinations that it sometimes feels like there’s nothing that they could do to surprise you anymore… and then nature morte comes along to show that they still have the power to overwhelm even the most jaded of listeners.
It’s an album that unmistakeably them, a distillation of their sound yet also the creation of a band shaking loose the last of their shackles. The hallmarks are all there – Mathieu Ball’s searing waves of distortion and controlled chaos, riffs that straddle that fine line between genius and awesome fury; Robin Wattie’s high, keening wails and screams that feel wrenched from the core of her soul; Tasy Hudson’s impeccable timing, raining down blows with the rhythmic power of a blacksmith yet capable of the most delicate flutters of percussion – but one minute they are amplified to new extremes, the next dialled back to a reflective simmer.
At the former end of the scale, opener ‘carvers, farriers and knaves’ wastes little time in reaching a climax, Ball’s teasing distortion paving the way for the trio until they crash down in concert with the towering awe of a tsunami. It continually pushes and pulls between silence and dissonance, and there’s a peculiarly gut-wrenching tone to Wattie’s voice that feels more unfettered than anything they’ve put out in the past. Conversely, ‘my hope renders me a fool’ is pure distortion, eschewing vocals in favour of a lush, soothing bath of sound. Almost a reflection of Ball’s beautiful art which graces nature morte’s cover, swathes of colour across a starkly barren frame, it’s a quietly expressive piece that is all too easy to get lost in.
The most striking effort is undoubtedly ‘the fable of subjugation’. A continuation of their work on 2021’s Leaving None But Small Birds collaboration, it has its roots in Appalachian folk traditions. There’s a defiant yet heartfelt quality to Wattie’s contributions, a pained sense of expression that complements the more emphatic outbursts elsewhere, and as Hudson’s intermittent jangles and crashes creep around noisy, erratic riffing, they create a sense of tension that builds before collapsing in a display of overwhelming volume and fury.
With nature morte, the Montreal trio have expanded the breadth of their sound and message while sacrificing none of what came before. It has the sheer, overwhelming might of Ardor as well as the fluid and intuitive songwriting of Vital, but they are only a fragment of why this record makes such a lasting impact on the listener. It’s the moments of silence and intimacy, the tension in Hudson’s delivery and the violence in Wattie’s cutting lyrics, and how these play with what we come to expect from a BIG|BRAVE release that make this their most powerful release to date.