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Brutus introduced their second album Nest with a live-in-studio video of first single “War,” and to watch the five-minute performance clip is to immediately witness what makes the Belgian trio such a compelling musical force. As a song, “War” has a lot going on—a tense, melancholy verse, a blistering crust-punk midsection, some Oathbreaker-style post-black metal ferocity—but their strengths seem all the more impressive when viewed up close. Drummer/vocalist Stefanie Mannaerts has an immediately striking vocal presence, at once capable of both restraint and some truly heroic range, but given a brief reprieve from her singing duties, she transforms into a pummeling physical presence behind the drums. Meanwhile, guitarist Stijn Vanhoegaerden seems to barely break a sweat as he transitions from haunting arpeggios to soaring tremolo riffs to pure hardcore crunch. The sound of the band is awesome, but the tension between the players makes the dynamic even more powerful.
“War” is a microcosm of Brutus’ full capabilities as a band on Nest, showing just how much three musicians can do with three instruments and a microphone. It’s a novel idea in an age when endless overdubs means a little extra hard drive space over shelves full of analog reels, but Brutus does more than most with a lot less. They’re the type of band that hammers out all of their ideas together in a small rehearsal space, making rock music the democratic way; “Everyone can say what they want,” Mannaerts said about their creative process. “Doesn’t matter what instrument you play.” That live, all-hands-on-deck approach gives the album a more urgent, intense musical sensibility, which in turn makes the human emotion coursing through these 11 songs all the more resonant.