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Album Review: BRUTUS Unison Life

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The rise of this unassuming Belgian trio is a story destined to warm the hearts of those cynical and jaded at the state of the music industry. Specifically, that part of the industry that makes musicians ring bells and whistles — or feel they have to ring them — in order to stand out from the saturated pack as it's hardly enough to just have decent music in one's back pocket anymore. But in this case there's thankfully not much more to the story outside of a stripped down power trio from the town of Leuven managing to attract the attention of a cross section of leather-clad headbangers, sweater-wearing indie kids, puke-stained punks and retina-burned internet armchair quarterbacks with the super-solid post-everything tunes populating their 2017 debut album, Burst.

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Then, they came back two years later with the equally engaging Nest, which openly kicked the sophomore album curse in the dick with a cache of aggressive space-age melodics. No gimmicks — outside of the fact that Stefanie Mannaerts sings and sets her drums up facing sideways on far stage left while her band mates, bassist Peter Mulders and guitarist Stijn Vanhoegaerden, create their own hubs in a cross-stage beeline. Just good music which has brought this trio of home bodies and family folk to some of the bigger and brighter concert halls and festivals as headliners and openers for the likes of the Foo Fighters and Cult of Luna as well as ringing endorsement from one Lars Ulrich.

And here we are with album number three. Unison Life was created, like everything else, over the course of the past two years during which unheralded time and attention to detail was permitted. The band may still be seeking answers to life and working out how to balance their chronological advancement with the spritely feelings that come with having a profession that doesn't conform to societal convention (despite the fact that all societies utilize and consume music), but good on ‘em for continuing to pair their existential seeking with inspired sound. 

The first thing that hits with Unison Life is how many genre territories are covered and how insidiously they manage to shift between sounds, styles and moods. Album opening dyad "Miles Away" and "Brave" go from spacey ambience to echo-y western-shirt doom to wiry spirals of metallic hardcore to primitive folk to Middle Eastern mysticism without a hitch. Blink and you'll miss the smooth transitions. Don't blink and you'll catch on to the shifts, but will be impressed with how Brutus are able to make all those moving parts sound like their own. 

"Victoria" and "What Have We Done" are two peas from the same pod; ultra-melodic doom-tinged post-hardcore that flirts with '90s alt-rock and Radiohead with Mannaerts' pocket groove and angelic vocal scratchiness firing emotional daggers into the lyrical subject matter. Sounding like a mix of Pat Benatar, Bjork, Stevie Nicks and Caro Tanghe (Oathbreaker), Mannaerts adds a searing affectation to the songs with a vibe that's part protest song and part psychic bloodletting. The weight her voice adds to "Dust" as it moves from ringing constellations 'n' twang to early ‘00s hardcore counterpointing a la Converge, Shai Hulud and Time in Malta and noise rock guitar splashing drives the point home. 

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What this particular hack has always found compelling about Brutus is how their not-overtly-metal sound clambers along and manages to appeal to unabashed metal heads. Unison Life takes a deliberately (?) playful tack and offers up a couple of undoubted and obvious metallic moments with "Liar"s mid-section recalling a two-beating, post-Gar Samuelson Megadeth and "Chainlife" pick hand chugging along like it's ‘80s NY and Prong's Tommy Victor is still the sound guy at CBGB's. Granted, there are reverb-soaked post-hardcore and shoe gazing parts added to the mix in the name of cosmos worship and the avoidance of homogeneity, but don't be surprised if guitarist Vanhoegaerden plays along to …And Justice for All as part of his pre-show warm-up.

And if all that gate keeping destruction, passionate expulsion and genre bending wasn't enough, check out the combination of mountain top jangle, chromatic black metal and "Kill Your Television" guitar reverb comprising the album's closing epic, "Desert Rain." Again, the seamless progressions are augmented and elevated by Mannaerts' voice which, on this track, takes on a particularly shredded and tortured child-like quality. This ups the track's emotional heft, making the closing dynamic bring-down feel more like languid post-coital smoke rings as opposed to heart-wrenching emotional drop-offs. 

Please note that one of the above-referenced old, jaded cynics is speaking in terms of emotional drops, psychic bloodletting and searing affectation to describe the impact this album has. Unison Life will make you feel shit.

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