Listening to Burst (Sargent House), it’s not that shocking that Brutus began life as a Refused cover band. The Belgian trio emulates the standard bearing Shape of Punk to Come by being completely uncompromising, challenging punk and hardcore sensibilities and transcending genre politics, yet doing so in ways that are as accessible as they are subversive.
What is a surprise is how Brutus got here so quickly. Refused didn’t put everything together until album number three; Brutus has emerged fully formed after only a handful of 7-inch singles and a split cassette with electronic stoner rock countrymates Wallace Vanborn. On album-opener “March,” crunchy guitars chug and chime right out of the gate, alternating between being angelic and merciless, a bulky noodling that weaves on top of, next to and behind the solid rhythm section, not unlike Greg Ginn if he wanted to invent thrash instead of reinvent punk. “All Along” shows a different facet to the band. Along a galloping rhythm, Stefanie Mannaerts’ screamed vocals propel the track, with the guitars relegated to being tastefully layered metallic meandering.
It’s easy to hear a metal influence in the atmospheric nature of Burst, even if it’s not necessarily accurate. In an era with many bands who employ such theatrics (witness Astronoid’s shimmering space rock, the emo post-rock of The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die or Emily Jane White’s neofolk), there is no shortage of indie-rock peers for Brutus, even if they seem to always be name-dropping Slayer in interviews. In today’s harsh times, dream pop doesn’t have to be dreamy. A perfect example of that is “Justice De Julia II,” with sing-song vocals and an ethereal whimsy that betrays how hard Mannaerts is pounding her drum kit.
Having Mannaerts as both the frontwoman and drummer could be problematic, but during “Drive,” possibly the definitive song on the album, the band uses this logistical problem to their advantage. It clocks in at 3:43, and the first third of the song is distorted guitars gradually emerging from sleep before a pop song explodes from the morass. The vocals are strained; you get the feeling they might have recorded them while she was playing drums in the studio as she would be doing in concert, lending a punk rock authenticity that is far more satisfying than perfect pitch.
The dissonant, melodramatic thrashcore of “Not Caring” finds the guitar taking the lead, running into a psychedelic mosh part before a devastating, dynamic break that leads into a furious finish. Methinks the lady protests too much, as they definitely care. It would make a great song with which to end a concert, while the song that ends the album, “Child,” clocks in as easily the longest at six minutes flat. It’s a cacophonous melodrama that ignores the pop hooks that dominate the rest of the album to concentrate on the kind of intense repetition while chanelling My Bloody Valentine as well as Deafheaven. Burst isn’t the shape of post-hardcore to come because the future is now.