Brutus – Unison Life

A work of thrilling maturation...

If being labelled a “post-rock” band is a poisoned chalice, being dubbed “post-hardcore” has surely got to be a lot worse. In fact, “post-anything” is pretty unfair: it suggests a kind of avant-garde pretentiousness which has nothing to do with genre and everything to do with artists running out of ideas.

Brutus, a Belgian trio now into their third album, have not run out of ideas – despite being lumbered with the “post-hardcore” label. That’s not to say that they’re radically changing direction from what they’ve done before: emotional, echoey music crafted around dense guitar riffs and the plaintive singing of Stefanie Mannaerts, their lead singer and drummer. ‘Unison Life’ might start with their first beatless track, ‘Miles Away’, but it quickly segues into what Brutus do best in the frenetic, aggressive rhythm of ‘Brave’, matched by Mannaerts’ vocals and Stijn Vanhoegaerden’s insistent riff-strumming. “I wanted every song to feel like the last song we’ll ever write,” Mannaerts has said about the album – which goes some way to explaining why ‘Unison Life’ feels more like a maturing of the band’s previous work than a new chapter.

Brutus – Unison Life

That shoulder-rubbing of calm, almost ambient soundscapes with fire and fury repeats throughout ‘Unison Life’. ‘Dust’ takes it in the opposite direction, beginning with an exhaustingly fast drum beat that pulls against the emotion of the song, before opening up in time and in texture, loosening the tense energy that set it going until it winds down like a clock to a strange, melancholic close. ‘Chainlife’ is more abrupt: “All I want to do is—” sings Mannaerts, before her voice gives way to a cathartic, pummelling guitar riff. It’s a beautiful song, augmented by studio effects that give it cathedral-sized depth and spirit.

There are some misses here: torpid lyrics like “Once more we sing along to this never-ending song” compromise the passion of Mannaerts’ voice, and the same choral effects that make ‘Chainlife’ so brilliant sound rather unearned on ‘Dreamlife’. But taken as a whole, this is Brutus’ most consistent, and often most emotional, album to date.

‘Desert Rain’ rounds things out, a seven-minute closer that – much like ‘Dust’ – makes use of a relentless double-speed drum beat, punctuated this time with imaginative breaks that play on the band’s early “mathy” music. It’s a worthy ending, and speaks to a growing confidence in treating their albums like a narrative, in a way that’s totally unpretentious – totally un-post-anything, really – and simply a reflection of how well the three musicians work together. Judging by their own account, they spent as much of the last two years cooking together and “hanging out” as they did actually working on the album. That time paid off. More than ever, Brutus sound cohesive here – and their visceral, enchanting music is all the better for it.

7/10

Words: Tom Kingsley

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