I am not what you would call a professional metal-head. Growing up with Slipknot, System of a Down and Metallica I’ve been there and loved metal but never completely immersed. The point is it takes something special in metal to get my attention these days. Are Belgian three-piece Brutus metal, even? Are they not post-rock? Post-hardcore? Technical metal? Christ, I don’t know, but why on earth should it matter?
However you wish to try and identify it, the second album from Brutus – Nest – certainly has my attention. It is a thunderous and intricate record, truly cross-genre and a very welcome rarity in a tech-rock/metal scene that so often underwhelms.
Among the obvious rudimental metal and hard rock references on show, there is so much else to Brutus’ game – smatterings of goth and emo, psych, shoegaze are all present and from the word go Nest is a beautifully structured, unrestrained savage. Or more appropriately from the word “Fire”, given that it’s the powerful first word launched from drummer-vocalist Stefanie Mannaert’s mouth after a near 60 second build up on the opening track of the same name. From that utterance, Nest launches into a punishing tirade that pretty much sets the pace for the next 40 minutes.
‘Django’ is the quintessential example of the song that satisfies us metal fringe-dwellers. It is raw and aggressive, yet maintains the important ability for crowds to join in. Made to measure for fiercely loud live shows to come, Mannaert’s soaring oooh’s and aaah’s glisten across a euphoric chorus.
There is literally no time for even a half-decent lung-full between each of the first three tracks on Nest. No let up. No respite. Before you work out what’s happening you’re into track three; ‘Cemetery’, one of the lead singles and arguably the album’s standout. Not for the first or last time we hear Mannaert’s vocals tightening and stretching to near breaking point, something in heavy rock that is sadistically glorious.
It’s quite astonishing to think that drummer and vocalist Stefanie Mannaerts only adopted vocal duties out of necessity (there was no-one else) when Mannaert’s multi-faceted role is such a cornerstone of Brutus’ sound; one can’t image that the trio would evoke quite as thrilling a response had they the alleged good fortune of a separate singer. You can hear and feel the somatically draining intensity of a drummer pulling double duty as gasping vocals scratch and strain and it completely makes the album what it is. To hear this live would be expected but to bottle this exertion in the studio is simply masterful. Props to Jesse Gander at Vancouver’s Rain City studios for that one.
Of course, we can’t forget accomplices Peter Mulders and Stijn Vanhoegaerden who chuck out thick concrete bass lines and ruthless guitar riffs like there’s no tomorrow. With the sheer depth of the brutalist wall of noise that these guys create, the less is more approach hasn’t been this well documented since A Place To Bury Strangers or Motörhead.
Undeniably, lead single ‘War’ is Nest’s rightful centrepiece and the first time Brutus forego drums as the album takes its first breather, with Mannaert’s pinching vocals sounding out in near isolation save for a gently picked guitar for a near two-minutes. But good God almighty do the trio make up for any lost intensity as the main body kicks in twice as heavy as before.
Rarely is an album without any objective critique and neither is Nest perfect. The standard in the second half does fall away just slightly against the blistering first. ‘Blind’ and ‘Distance’ for example don’t quite stack up against the incredibly high standards of ‘Techno’ or ‘Carry’. Even so, it would be horribly critical to focus on this any more than I already have. Nest is a complete, progressive post-whatever triumph.