If a band can sound both abrasive and introspective in equal measure, then that is the sound of Montreal’s BIG|BRAVE. On Au De La, their second full-length and first venture with legendary label Southern Lord, they run the gamut from slow, steady doom to pulsing tribal rhythms to almost industrial feedback. Yet all the while they remain self-reflective; outwardly expressive but looking inward.
A gradual, lurching start signals an album that is less interested in speed and musical virtuosity than atmosphere and emotion. The guitars are thick, with a pulsing distortion that lingers into the background, like the grinding of pistons in an ancient, enormous machine. Clean vocals pierce the noise, their high register succeeding in lending a tribal flair to the songs. They evoke a wildness that drags the band out of the mechanical city and into the frozen Canadian tundra. Without them, and this is true of almost every track, the sound would lurch into industrially-tinged doom. The band is clearly aiming at a slow build-up, and admittedly it feels a bit too slow at times. The instrumentation doesn’t change very much, though the vocals just manage to keep it interesting enough.
This tribal thread stitches the Au De La together; beyond this the album shows considerable variety when changes do occur. The opener, On The By And By And Thereon, builds from its sparse beginnings to a crescendo of cymbal crashes and slow chords. It becomes almost claustrophobic before opening up into ambient space in Look At How The World Has Made A Change. Its calming use of swells and gentle feedback conjures images of a descent to the sea-floor, like a sight-seeing tour led by Brian Eno.
The title of the third track, do.no.harm.do.no.wrong.Do.No.Harm.Do.No.Wrong.DO.NO.HARM.DO.NO.WRONG, captures the rising manic energy that BIG|BRAVE present so well. From the relentless beat to the screaming, wailing vocal lines, this track cracks with energy. But the constant percussion gives it that same introspective feeling. Walls of feedback and whining slides change regularly, and this gives the track more variation than Au De La‘s opener. It has the same kind of primal repetition captured by Swans on their more recent releases.
Au De La also provides space for ritualistic vocal passages, where hazy, slow words slur together in strange ways. The lyrics feel secondary to the vocal effect, which is disorientating and at times evoking desperation. It certainly encourages deeper listening. And As The Waters Go definitely emphasises the lyrical content, being pushed to the forefront against a mess of doomy guitars and drums. Where the rest of the album avoids outright aggression, here BIG|BRAVE embrace it. The guitars never quite match the same ferocity of the vocals, but they provide a pretty effective backdrop.
The album ends as it begins, slowly and simply. Final track (re)Collection Part II reinforces the great cohesion of all Au De La‘s five tracks. It is the heaviest song, with a focus on the thundering guitar riffs that mirror the funereal doom of My Dying Bride. The repetition is more effective, less invasive, than that of the opening track, and the addition of violins from Jessica Moss (Thee Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra) gives it added melancholic flavour.
Au De La walks a fine line between doom-laden noise and soft shoegazing, but it is a remarkably coherent album. At times it drags on a little, but ideas subtly develop and elicit self-reflection. This review’s rambling is just testament to the introspection that Au De La radiates and encourages.
Scribed by: Will Beattie