BIG|BRAVE Experiment with Story and Structure on “Nature Morte” (Review)
The secret ingredient is time: wisdom passed down over centuries through vineyards, bakeries, and doom metal artists. Doom in particular has an almost symbiotic relationship with the clock; how many other musical genres are defined not by notes played or techniques used, but by the speed at which they’re unleashed? In a great doom song, time becomes an additional unseen band member, gradually pulling us towards its core, and turning glacially on its course.
Convention often dictates that doom starts slowly and continues apace, but BIG|BRAVE have never been one for convention, and on their new album Nature Morte they harness their maturity as pre eminent time manipulators to subvert genre tropes and test the elasticity of their musical heritage. This approach begins instantly, as in right away—the album roars into life with no ambiguous wall of feedback, and no looped phrases as Robin Wattie, Mathieu Ball, and Tasy Hudson pick up their instruments one by one.
Instead, all three players launch into “Carvers, Farriers and Knaves” simultaneously and urgently: the resulting song plunges us straight into the album’s themes of decay and unease, and holds us there for its duration. It’s an incredible experiment; BIG|BRAVE have spent so many years conducting our attention through waves of suspense and release. It’s cathartic to hear them bolt violently out of the gate and keep going until they’re completely breathless.
The first three of the album’s six songs feel cohesively angry and enormous, among them “My Hope Renders Me A Fool,” a piece that recalls Ball’s album of single take instrumental recordings Amplified Guitar, which was released last year. In fact, it’s possible to partially trace the genealogy of Nature Morte through the projects the band have undertaken between it and 2021’s Vital, with Wattie stating that the structures and stories of the folk songs interpreted on the band’s collaboration with The Body, Leaving None But Small Birds, informed the writing process for this album, as she sought to create stories with a similar delicate balance of intimacy and universality.
Her voice remains the key to that thematic unease in the instantly recognisable sound of BIG|BRAVE, power and pain in one, simultaneously able to navigate the static of the band's instrumentation, and contradict it with a turn of phrase or unexpected melody.
If the first section of the album delivers a taught, tense exercise in sustained volume, the second uses time to different ends entirely, with a structure that begins by stretching time to its absolute limit, holding it there, and then watches the carnage created when it violently snaps back on release. That stretching takes the form of “The Fable Of Subjugation,” an almost entirely deconstructed BIG|BRAVE song, in which every element the band has built their confidence and career wielding gets an opportunity to stand at the fore, be rearranged, then replayed, and make way. It feels like a testament to the individual strength and ability of the members of a band in which nothing is superfluous, which is to say that without those elements that “The Fable Of Subjugation” puts under the spotlight, there is no BIG|BRAVE. If we consider this to be the album’s side B, it’s in polar opposition to the tempestuous opening of side A.
Then comes the snap, “A Parable Of The Trusting” features lyrics that spill out over musical phrases as though there otherwise might not be enough time to convey the song’s meaning, which seems to be deeply personal and confrontational from Wattie’s standpoint—even beyond the words it’s there in her voice, you get the sense that this was not an easy song to create.
Musically, the song stomps and hoofs its way to a huge, bombastic climax, a fitting mirror to the album’s opening. The subsequent and final part of the album acts musically and lyrically as something of a companion piece to “A Parable Of The Trusting” and a coda to the whole experience, a deep breath and a moment's pause to survey the damage done over the course of the album.
If this feels like an investigation into Nature Morte’s structure and sequencing as much as the music contained within it, it’s because both elements are essential to understanding what makes the work unique in BIG|BRAVE’s catalog. Here, their mastery of time has leapt from the bounds of individual songs and runs wild over the entire album, and crucially, this is why it can successfully weave through such extremes of maximalism and minimalism, taking routes through drone and folk.
They have always been able to create gut wrenching doom anthems, but on Nature Morte, BIG|BRAVE look at the big picture and pull into focus the scale of the stories they’re capable of telling.
Nature Morte released February 24 via Thrill Jockey Records.