The Belgian post-metal trio discuss the evolution of their sound, finding a balance between musical consistency and artistic freedom and how their latest album is Brutus at it’s full potential.
Belgian three-piece Brutus have one of the most identifiable and idiosyncratic sounds to emerge from the worlds of post-hardcore and post-metal in recent years, a sphere that is massively difficult to find an identity in without just recycling the ideas that Refused, Deftones, or Cult of Luna perfected years ago, and that alone has made them worth praising ever since their emergence with their 2017 album Burst.
After building a reputation on the live circuit it’s follow-up Nest particularly put them on radars, but new album Unison Life seems to take the lessons of Nest much, much further in continuing to prioritise musical maturity and incredibly striking emotion, something bassist Peter Mulders and drummer/vocalist Stefanie Mannaerts feel increasingly buoyed about after the time spent crafting this record in talking with us.
It felt like Nest in 2019 was kinda a breakthrough moment for your band in terms of really connecting with a lot of people and so with that being the case and then of course the cycle for it being cut short by the pandemic, how confident did you feel going into the follow-up?
Peter: Not confident! But it’s true that we had a lot of tours and shows after Nest and we were planning a lot more in 2020 that was never even announced, and we were discussing recently that we never really complained about what was happening and immediately just starting writing a new album. We were not confident that it would be good but we were confident that we wanted to do our best.
Stefanie: Everything that happened with Nest is what you dream about but you never think will happen. We’re very happy and feel very lucky, and what we have received from this record is beyond expectations too.
Things like the Live In Ghent album and the rooftop show you did are quite striking, so what’s your audience and following like at home in Belgium for those not in the know?
Peter: The Live In Ghent album was only because of the pandemic. There’s no way that we would have put out a live album if everything had been normal. It was for us a little bit of healing because all the live shows were done and we were looking back over the recordings of what we had.
Stefanie: It was not on purpose, a guy wanted to film three songs and then ended up doing the entire set just to be sure, so our sound guy recorded everything too, and then when we lost all the tours we thought this would be a nice idea, emailing the labels thinking they would laugh at us cause we’re this silly young band with only two records but they thought it was great.
Peter: The rooftop show too, and another show we did in 2020 in an amphitheater in Antwerp for sitting people, were just being creative with what the options were at that time. If you have the chance to play on the roof of a fort of Napoleon from the 1600s, you do it cause you’ll never have the chance to do that again. We said no to a lot of things too cause we didn’t want to do livestreams that suck, and the following in Belgium we are very lucky to have. We have been playing shows here since 2014 and we’ve played a lot of shows in very small clubs, sometimes feeling like you’re playing shows to 10 or 20 people but who all now have grown up with us and followed us along the way since back then.
It felt like Nest expanded a lot of the ideas that were then on Burst as this raw burst of sounds and ideas for your band into much larger pieces. Unison Life really feels like it’s gone so much further in that direction so how do you feel about how the raw essence of what the Brutus sound is has evolved into this album?
Peter: I think at this point if you ask us we can name one or two songs on this album that really feel like what we are now and are the biggest steps to what we want to be as a band. What Have We Done is one of the songs that we think we’ve never done better, and I hope we will always be a band who keep growing. What Have We Done felt for like a step for us into what we wanted this to be, in the way I think War would have been on Nest along with Sugar Dragon maybe. This time it’s “What Have We Done” and “Victoria”.
For whatever reason it feels like quite a heavy listen emotionally in comparison, with songs like What Have We Done and Victoria allowing real space to take all that in. What kind of ideas are you taken to when laying down these kinds of tracks?
Stefanie: I think we learned to make space. With Burst, everything is so full, everyone is playing all the time on a technical level. With Nest, there’s baby steps of woah, maybe there’s a verse without a guitar! Because we had so much time to make this one we had time to talk and go ‘do we really need this piece, this note, this blast beat?’ Everything was talked over with more time before recording.
Peter: The songs had more time to sink in and that gave us more perspective to finesse and sculpt them differently. We’re also older in years and we want to take the next step in the band, and that example of more space and more emotion is something we are not afraid of.
Stefanie: For me, Burst was more big drama without actually saying anything. Burst was like a first date, where when you’re together with your girlfriend in the beginning your arguments are so ridiculous and stupid. This album was more learning things and talking through songs more.
Peter: We did pay more attention to the lyrics, which may sound weird, but with “Victoria” we worked very hard till we had the perfect match between what Stefanie was singing and the music. That sounds like normal songwriting but for us, it was like the last thing that came to us, because we’re an eclectic band and we put a lot of stuff we like together and have fun as we write. With Burst that was totally that side of the band, but this I hope has made for better songs.
Stefanie, that kind of material feels like you are really stretching yourself vocally which is something you’ve been doing all along in Brutus because you were not initially a singer, but was this a particularly gratifying or challenging one for you to make as the singer?
Stefanie: Of course. I feel this is the first record where I feel I sound like myself. When I listen to Burst I’m just, “oh my goodness”, and I get that it’s a first record and I will be proud of it forever but I lacked technical capacity and I lacked being able to express myself outside of saying “fuck off” when somebody says I’m doing something wrong. I was always very happy with the instrumental part in the band and now I feel that the vocals are on the same level as the instrumental part, so I’m happy that I’ve joined the team nine years later.
Peter: You have to know that for Burst and Nest, we recorded all the demos on iPhones. We had a stable where we rehearsed, and all the amps and the drums are fucking loud, and then you have this really crappy vocal installation and put the iPhone in the middle of the room and play the song and that’s your demo. I don’t think you could hear the voice and Stefanie could not hear herself sing, no in-ears or anything, and that’s how we wrote Burst and Nest. For Unison Life we had a new place and better equipment, and we could all actually hear Stefanie sing as we demoed. People who are saying that the vocals are on a new level or better, this is four years after we wrote Nest and two years of Stefanie finally hearing herself singing. If we had put Stefanie in the same good circumstances as she is in now, maybe it would be earlier, but for all me it’s all a natural process from Burst to Nest to now.
Stefanie: We always wrote the music first, and I thought of myself as a drummer that sings, not a singing drummer. When we practice I sometimes forget the vocals when I’m having too much fun playing, and the guys have to say “Don’t forget you have to sing!”, but now we put real time into the vocals. It’s a nice position to be in when someone else goes “Maybe we should put time onto your part now”.
There is this really sweeping, beautiful delicateness to your music but it’s really striking how often you still attack songs at full pelt as opposed to going down the more post-rock or post-metal direction. Do you guys still think of yourself as a punk band, and is that an interesting to try and balance in your songs?
Peter: We will always be us. I’ve just said that “What Have We Done” could be like the new Brutus, but then we’ve also just done a song for a project that comes out in 2023 as a one-off song, and it’s really not “What Have We Done”, it’s full on blast beats and riffing. That’s also Brutus and we will always go for what we feel.
It’s also just such a massive sound with so much presence coming out of the speakers that you probably wouldn’t guess it’s just three people. What is the appeal of that dynamic for you and how do you go about filling so much space?
Stefanie: I can speak for myself in that I like big-sounding stuff. It doesn’t have to be metal or whatever but something that has that hugeness, and for us when something is really small-sounding we keep on searching until Stijn sounds like he’s two guitarists, Peter sounds like he’s a second guitarist. I don’t want to sound like I’m being torn between my two parts either, and in my head it’s like we all play two instruments. Aside from trying to outdo ourselves with our records, one of the things for me is not actually sounding so obviously like a three-piece. Not that it’s a problem but sometimes you hear records and just immediately think “Two-piece!”, and I just want to sound like a rock band where that is not so obvious. We don’t want to ask another person because with us it is perfect but we like music with a lot of layers.
Peter: We like Cult of Luna and Russian Circles, and if you listen to Russian Circles it’s just three guys, but it’s never just one guitar. It’s always layering and looping. We don’t loop but we like that. Cult of Luna have three guitarists and the keys, and we never think about getting a keyboardist or a second guitarist, but we do want to sound that big! So you search and you use extra fingers, sometimes when I close my eyes Stijn can sound like two guitar players and can do two melodies, and as a bass player I don’t want to be the one who just sits on the drums and does the back layer. I’m lucky then that I’m in a three-piece band because if I was in a four-piece band, probably those two guitarists would tell me to sit down, you’re the bass player.
Is there a band that, rather than wanting to sound like them, you admire in terms of the kind of career they’ve had and how they’ve been able to carry themselves over the years as like the kind of thing you’d aspire to with Brutus?
Stefanie: I have two bands in mind. Russian Circles, the first time I saw them was thirteen years ago and for me they are still getting better. They are so musical and tasteful and I can daydream to them, and I also admire the career of Radiohead. I don’t even like every song, but they keep on searching and digging deeper, they’ll take everything away and go back to basics and then do a complete 180 but without losing who they are. I think that is the highest goal, to have nobody ask what the fuck you are doing because your identity is so strong even with every record being different. That experimenting is something to look up to in my opinion. Some artists have had their chance and fucked it up, and they didn’t fuck it up. So with Russian Circles it is like musical consistency, and then Radiohead the artistic freedom.
Peter: The first band I thought of is also Russian Circles. We’ve been on tour with them for one of our first real tours as a support band. They showed us how you can be as a touring band and how humble you can be. They are so nice and everybody likes them, we don’t want to be the dickheads. If you talk about careers in terms of selling albums or tickets, we taught ourselves not to think like that where we have huge goals. We just want to be a nice band who makes good music, and to be happy that people have bought our tickets and feel that it had some value to their night.
Unison Life arrives October 21st via Hassle Records / Sargent House. Pre-order/save it – HERE
Brutus Tour Dates
November 16 – The Fleece – Bristol (UK)
November 17 – Rebellion – Manchester (UK)
November 18 – Audio, Glasgow (UK)
November 19 – Lending Room, Leeds (UK)
November 21 – Patterns, Brighton (UK)
November 22 – The Garage, London (UK)
January 30 – Stummsche Reithalle – Neunkirchen (DE)
January 31 – La Maroquenerie – Paris (FR)
February 01 – Paradiso Noord – Amsterdam (NL)
February 03 – AB – Brussels (BE) – SOLD OUT
February 25 – Wilde Westen @ De Kreun – Kortrijk (BE)
February 26 – Junkyard – Dortmund (DE)
February 27 – Colos-Saal – Aschaffenburg (DE)
March 01 – TivoliVredeburg – Utrecht (NL)
March 02 – Doornroosje – Nijmegen (NL)
March 03 – Hell Over Hammaburg – Hamburg (DE)
March 04 – Radar – Aarhus (DK)
March 06 – Vega – Copenhagen (DK)
March 07 – Hus 7 – Stockholm (SE)
March 08 – Fangelset – Gothenburg (SE)
March 09 – Plan B – Malmö (SE)
March 11 – Cafe Glosksee – Hannover (DE)
March 12 – Beatpol – Dresden (DE)
March 13 – Frannz Club – Berlin (DE)
March 14 – Klub U Bazyla – Poznan (PL)
March 16 – Hybrydy – Warsaw (PL)
March 17 – Kamienna12 – Krakow (PL)
March 18 – Kasarna Karlin – Prague (CZ)
March 21 – Dynamo Saal – Zurich (CH)
March 22 – PTR/L’Usine – Geneva (CH)
March 23 – Les Trinitaires – Metz (FR)
March 25 – Cactus club – Brugge (BE)
March 26 – JC De Bilding – Bilzen (BE)\