I slink out of the Double R Diner booth I’m seated in and saunter over to where Audrey Horne is swaying in the center of the restaurant. Eyes closed, head back, fingers loosely splayed out, I join her in an unhurried groovy dance and lose myself to the music. I watch as a wash of color on the back of my eyelids slowly morphs with the ebb and flow of the music. The soundtrack to our dance, however, is strangely not Angelo Badalamenti’s jazz instrumental but “Muted Shifting of Space,” the hypnotic opening track on BIG|BRAVE’s new fourth full-length album A Gaze Among Them. For me, BIG|BRAVE’s new record elicits the feeling of sitting in on one of the most subtly evocative scenes in Twin Peaks1. BIG|BRAVE, a Canadian experimental doom/drone metal band, is all at once poetic, brutally loud, repetitive, and perhaps heavier and more abrasive than ever before on their new release. Robin Wattie (vocals, guitar), Mathieu Ball (guitar), and Loel Campbell (drums) work together along with guest stars Thierry Amar (Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt Zion) on contrabass and Seth Manchester on synths to prove they’ve perfected another facet of the interplay between sound and space.
John Cage, avant-garde composer and pioneer of minimalism noted, “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.” Though Cage may not be the most celebrated of figures amongst the Angry Metal Guy community, there’s still weight to his words, especially concerning A Gaze Among Them. In fact, Wattie herself asserted that “finding melody and musicality in pieces that consist of one note for longer than ten minutes” was one of their primary goals when meticulously toiling away on honing their craft of braiding together space, volume, and raw emotion. As with BIG|BRAVE’s previous releases, A Gaze Among Them is less about song structure and more about mood, less about product and more about process. Apparent in the first minute of the album on “Muted Shifting of Space” when entrancing fuzzy guitars emerge in a mind-numbing riff and throughout the remaining four tracks of the album, the most impressive characteristic of BIG|BRAVE’s heaviest work thus far is its ability to, despite the oppressive onslaught, assuage and soothe the listener into a dream state.
Wake up from BIG|BRAVE’s spell before the conclusion of the album, however, and you’ll undoubtedly be in for a rude awakening when you realize how incredibly barren the music is. The repetition quickly conjures boredom and the band’s focus on a single chosen note or chord comes off as pretentious. Despite this, A Gaze Among Them has far too many redeeming qualities packed into a brief thirty-nine minutes to truly yank at my rating.
Since their inception, BIG|BRAVE’s instrumentation has taken a backseat to Wattie’s siren-like vocals reminiscent of Dolores O’Riordan’s lilting yodels which aided The Cranberries in becoming a global sensation. On “Holding Pattern,” her stirring voice materializes as if born from the drone-laden outset and levitates just above the wall of sound. The Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross-sounding “Body Individual” starts off in a similar fashion, but Wattie’s vocals give way to a crescendo of jazz-inspired percussion and guitar feedback that climaxes with the return of Wattie’s floating vocals. Waves of sludge guitar recalling The Body crash repeatedly all the way to the last second of the album on “Sibling.” Lastly, it would be a sin to forgo mentioning the crystal-clear production heard particularly in the drum layers thanks to Seth Manchester and his Machines with Magnets studio.
A Gaze Among Them holds true to BIG|BRAVE’s name with a sound that is both mighty and courageous – the trio is awkward to categorize, leaving them in the unforgiving territory of experimental metal where few bands venture with favorable results. Does that mean I would go so far as to earnestly recommend A Gaze Among Them to those severely disgruntled by the hype around the new Sunn O))) album released on Record Store Day? Absolutely not. But for those whose interest was piqued even remotely, I highly recommend BIG|BRAVE’s newest release – preferably with eyes closed and the volume cranked. Be prepared for beautiful eyelid movies.