If the range of sound can be envisioned as a planet, Montréal’s BIG|BRAVE has become both its molten core and its natural surface. The Canadian trio’s latest album, “nature morte,” released on Feb. 24, synthesizes crushing heaviness and wistful folk for the first time. Even with its greater emphasis on soothing folk passages, “nature morte” is still as disquieting as every BIG|BRAVE album that came before. The French title translates to “dead nature,” and as the six-track, 43-minute album progresses, that phantom of loss smothers every wilting note.
While BIG|BRAVE’s songs typically build toward sonic explosions via droning chords and discordant feedback loops, “Carvers, Farriers and Knaves” pulverizes the listener immediately with crashing drums and screaming electric guitars. Adding to the chaos, vocalist/guitarist Robin Wattie half-howls, half screams: “it claims you — a disease,” establishing a chilling atmosphere that mutates throughout the album. As the first lyric suggests, “nature morte” is a death taking place in the present, the disease “hacking and cutting away / hacking and butchering away” as Wattie’s vocals grow more desperate and frightening.
BIG|BRAVE states on their Bandcamp page that “the album tackles the folly of hope, the consequences of trauma, often centers on the subjugation of femininity in all its pluralities,” a plurality which includes “mother nature.” Despite the band’s maximalist tendency to create seven-plus minute songs, they compose lyrics and instrumentation in the spirit of minimalism — an approach echoed by the band’s past albums, whose soundscapes were drawn entirely from single chords. Similarly, Wattie constructs lyrical dreamscapes from mere fragments of sentences.
With the band’s ethos in mind, songs like “The One Who Bornes a Weary Load” come alive with hidden meanings and emotive musicianship, winding through trance-states and earth-rumbling noise rock. The group creates a heart-stopping atmosphere shift at the song’s 7-minute mark, lamenting the curse of being born into a body that becomes a target.
The unsettling note feeds into the album’s lone instrumental track, “My Hope Renders Me a Fool,” a showcase of how interesting BIG|BRAVE can make just a few chords sound. Like a poem without words, the song says all it needs to say through instruments alone. After a noisy intro, “My Hope Renders Me a Fool” devolves into what sounds like an Americana funeral procession, leading into the album’s centerpiece: “The Fable of Subjugation.”
Clocking in at more than nine minutes, “The Fable of Subjugation” is a crown jewel of the band’s discography, splicing their post-metal forte with the Appalachian folk explored on their collaboration with The Body: “Leaving None But Small Birds” (2021). Expanding the foundations of BIG|BRAVE’s sonic palette while maintaining the band’s meticulous attention to detail, “The Fable of Subjugation” feels like watching the sun set into a chilling night.
“The Fable of Subjugation” also discusses the album’s themes of feminine trauma in an unconventional way. Wattie writes from a male point-of-view, making grand promises to the song’s subject in an attempt to woo them, presumably into a form of subjugation. This concept fades swiftly into the album’s penultimate track, “A Parable of the Trusting,” another pensive epic containing what may be the most haunting lyrics on “nature morte.” Speaking about the long-reaching aftermath of trauma, the speaker contemplates how “no one ever really sees a body self-loathing” and grapples with lifelong injury, singing, “behind everything I do, there is the thought of you. / behind everyone new I meet, I query who they can really be.”
Closing with a short atmospheric piece, “The Ten of Swords,” “nature morte” fades like a flower that finally succumbs to decay, leaving the listener with ample space to dwell on nightmarish lyrics like “limbs of offal.” When the album formally concludes, it’s hard not to feel a sense of awe, like stepping foot on dry land after being at sea for months. Despite this feeling of relief, listening to “nature morte” is an arduous, even painful task, but even that experience warrants merit in itself. Each song’s freeform structure reflects its subject matter, droning and lurching when the world seems like it is too much to bear; exploding when the emotions can no longer be contained.
Unlike most of the band’s back catalog, “nature morte” does not include a narrative concept, opting instead to tie related vignettes together with sonic threads. As a result, these six songs interact with one another to produce an overarching feeling: an endless shadow spreading over a once vibrant land. “nature morte” prompts the listener to reconsider the way they view femininity and trauma in their own lives, comparing abuse to the pollution-fueled degradation of “Mother Earth.”
With cutting-edge compositions, rapturous vocals and a heaviness fit to break hearts and bones, “nature morte” is an album not easily comparable even to other works of post-metal or experimental folk. Despite their roots, BIG|BRAVE have successfully broken free from easy categorization, turning in their best all-around performance to date. As thought-provoking as it is frightening, there’s an importance to “nature morte” that cannot be stated in plain terms: it’s a journey into foreboding yet beautiful realms, and no matter what you take away from the album, you won’t return the same.
Easton Lane (he/him) (25C) is from Littleton, Colorado and is double majoring in Creative Writing and Environmental Sciences. When he’s not listening to heavy metal, he can be found writing stories about bittersweet things and telling people about the music he has just listened to.