Written by Ellis Heasley
Brutus – Unison Life
> Leuven, Belgium
> Releases October 21
> Hassle Records
It is hard not to start this review with one cliché or another about how Brutus are one of those special bands who don’t fit into any one box. Or how they manage to sound so fucking massive despite having just three members. Or how instantly recognisable their sound becomes as soon as you’ve heard anything they’ve done. Point is, this Belgian trio are remarkable, and if you have listened to any of their previous records you probably won’t need telling twice.
Their debut full-length Burst was supremely compelling—even Lars Ulrich approved—while 2019’s Nest refused to buckle under the weight of any such hype to go even better. Both records presented a dynamic and vibrant take on post-hardcore, drawing on bits and pieces of punk, shoegaze, post-rock, post-metal and more in a manner that made it extremely difficult to think who their sonic peers might be. Russian Circles maybe, or Oathbreaker, or even Deftones at points. Again, in case it wasn’t clear, Brutus have been a law unto themselves since they Burst onto the scene (Editor’s note: Boooooooooo), and those comparisons are only really mentioned to highlight just how broad and impressive their sound really is.
All this means though that when the band start making promises about the heavy parts being heavier and the gentle parts being gentler and so on for their third full-length Unison Life, one does wonder just how likely—or possible even—that really is. They do largely deliver on it though; without descending into overly comparative pedantry, this album does feel more dynamic than Nest, just as that record felt more dynamic than Burst before it. There seem to be more moments of straight-up delicacy here in particular, as established right from the off with the padded synths and ethereal vocals of opener “Miles Away”. It’s also not the wildest departure however; this is still very recognisably Brutus, and, much like the evolution seen between its two predecessors, the steps it takes forward are clear and manageable for band and listener alike.
Getting into the details, the band have already released four of the ten tracks on this album as singles, which of course is hardly unheard of nowadays, but does feel like it might be a couple too many. It is always best to experience an album like this in full, and the more that’s left to the imagination beforehand the better. The tracks that are out are all great though, especially “Liar” which arrives sixth on the record as a whole and kicks off with a driving punky energy before a hypnotic bass-driven break sets up and incendiary, riff-heavy conclusion that isn’t a million miles away from something Mastodon might have gone for on some of their more recent records.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Brutus is their resolute commitment to their three-piece dynamic. Of course there are a few little overdubs and embellishments here and there, but for the most part the trio rely on the tools they have to hand to create a sound that feels towering and expansive and yet with enough of an obvious live-ready intensity. Second track “Brave” for example is staggeringly heavy, and yet most of its weight comes quite clearly from bassist Peter Mulders rather than the walls of guitars a lot of bands would’ve relied on here. Fifth track “Dust” is another prime example, with Stijn Vanhoegaerden playing some big Cave In-esque spacey guitar leads as Mulders rumbles away beneath him. Each occupies their own space, and while many others would’ve been tempted to stuff the middle with power chords, this song proves that “more” isn’t always the answer.
Quite frankly, how we’ve gotten this far without mentioning drummer/vocalist Stefanie Mannaerts is ridiculous. In terms of vocals at least, Unison Life see her pull out easily her best performance yet, particularly on a track like the shoegazey “Victoria” where she delivers arguably the record’s best chorus of all with such palpable melodic beauty and passion. It’s an emotional song in general, essentially focused on the inevitability of growing older but with vaguely uplifting lyrics like “Wake me up inside / When the light strikes again / There is another way, to find / On my own I’ll meet you there / I’ll strike you, every time”. Later, “Chainlife” gives Mannaerts another chance to really shine, her clean vocals once again hugely emotive in the intro before she rips into some killer blast beats to remind everyone that singing is just one of her many talents.
The real highlight though is ninth track “Dreamlife”. A bit like “War” on the last album, this one feels like the showstopper even on a record of such consistently high standards. Mannaerts’ snare provides a strong backbone for most of it, with her almost pained vocals and Vanhoegaerden’s big shoegazey leads raising the emotional stakes significantly. It all comes to a head in the bridge, as Mannaerts belts out “There is a thunder in my heart, lightning in my head / Sometimes I wish I was never ever there” before the band come in with the kind of thunderous, tearjerking power that could hold up against the best work of anyone from Mono to Cult of Luna. Maybe—just maybe—it should have been the album’s closer, as it really is its finest moment, but then we wouldn’t have gotten “Desert Rain”, which is still a gigantic way to end the record. It pushes right towards the seven-minute mark, with Mannaerts somehow managing to sing over her own blast beats in a suitably climactic final offering.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Unison Life is a proper stunner, and a nailed-on contender for AOTY lists everywhere. Maybe that’s exactly what you were expecting if you’ve already heard Burst or Nest, but don’t let that take away from yet another triumph from a trio who are fast becoming as uniquely important as any of the bands that this review has namechecked. Give this one your time, give it your money, and absolutely check Brutus out live when you get a chance because if they’re anything like they were on the back of Nest then this record will gain even more power in that setting.