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The Shape of Post-Rock to Come: Brutus on the Crushing Beauty of 'Unison Life'

Tuesday, 01 November 2022 Written by Matt Mills

Photo: Eva Vlonk

Ghent is a gorgeous place. A small Flemish city a 45 minute drive north-west of Brussels, its biggest draw is its wide open squares surrounded by 12th century architecture and cathedrals. It’s also a low-key hotbed for forward-thinking music.

When Stereoboard gallivants over to the town, we quickly find the Consouling Store: a vinyl record shop that blares Amenra on the stereo and sells all manner of alt-music merch. Every year, the city centre hosts Dunk! Festival, where such progressive masterminds as Jesu, Alcest and 65daysofstatic have serenaded 1,100 people at a time. Brutus live here too.

A short walk away from the canals and storied buildings that give Ghent its charm, we sit down to chat with drummer-vocalist Stefanie Mannaerts and bassist Peter Mulders at their band’s HQ. It’s basically a garage.

In the main room, where the three of us talk about Brutus’s new, third album ‘Unison Life’, we’re perched on mismatched sofas, while the left wall is covered in gig posters, as well as drawings by Peter’s stepson. Next door is a studio where the trio track and demo their ideas. It may not be stylish, but it’s the home of one of underground post-rock’s most continually lauded bands.

When Brutus debuted in 2017 with ‘Burst’, it turned hardcore upside-down and inside-out. A genre normally defined by its screaming and angst-powered riffs, in their hands, became luminescent. Stefanie’s melodic howls echoed on top of her vigorous drumming, while Stijn Vanhoegaerden’s guitar lines excitedly whirled. Such subversion instantly earned the seal of approval from The Dillinger Escape Plan frontman Greg Puciato, as well as Lars Ulrich: the Metallica drummer played the track Drive on his Apple Music show.

On ‘Unison Life’ Brutus are even more beautiful, and the melodies have only strengthened on songs such as Liar. They’re adorned with shimmering production and softer vocals, yet lack none of the energy that forced some of rock’s biggest stars to give this band two thumbs up. Meanwhile, Dust is more explicitly hardcore, as Stefanie rants over her own lightning-fast drumbeats in a display of multitasking that would make Mastodon’s Brann Dailor contemplate retirement.

“When we released Dust as a single, my dad sent me a bunch of screenshots and a lot of comments saying that this is going to be an angry album,” Stefanie remembers. “But I don’t think so. I get it now, because…”

Peter interrupts her, but seemingly picks up exactly where she left off. “If you heard Dust and then you heard Liar, you’d be like, ‘Whoa! What are they gonna do?’”

“Yeah!” Stefanie replies. “Maybe Dust is a heavy song but, when it comes to guitar music, Liar is not super heavy to me. It’s not Cult of Luna.” She breaks into a smile. “My mum thinks Liar is super heavy.”

Heavy music definitely isn’t in Brutus’s blood. Stefanie was born in Leuven, an hour away on the far side of Brussels, to a dad obsessed with Dolly Parton and a mum “who listens to radio stuff that’s alternative, not too poppy, but still poppy, and Brutus.” Peter grew up an hour down the road in “a village that nobody has ever heard of”. The nearest guitar shop was half an hour away and there wasn’t a record store in sight. It wasn’t until he and his school friends made a pact to buy guitars together that he began to properly pursue music.

“I first met Peter through the Leuven scene,” Stefanie remembers. “It’s a small scene. He was the bass player of a punk rock band. I’d never met him but I knew there was a tall guy called Peter that could play bass.”

“And I knew there was a girl who drummed in a band called Starfucker,” Peter adds. “Promise me you won’t write that down.” No. “Then this interview is over,” he laughs.

Stefanie continues: “I was 14 and it was my first band. I’ll try and continue without being rude about the band. It’s how I met Stijn, our guitar player; he was their bassist. It was other people’s music, so we were like, ‘Imagine, one day, we’ll start a band that we enjoy.’”

When Stijn, Peter and Stefanie first came together in 2008, though, it wasn’t to make original music: Brutus started life as a Refused cover band. At the time, the hardcore icons behind ‘The Shape of Punk to Come’ had been disbanded for 10 years, and none of Brutus had ever seen them live, despite being avid fans.

“I really liked ‘The Shape of Punk to Come’ but was too young to have seen them live,” remembers Stefanie. “Peter had this idea: ‘Let’s do that record from the first song until the last as an aftershow thing so that everyone can experience Refused.’ Everyone wanted to see it. ”

However, Peter adds: “Unlike Refused, we will not reunite. We rehearsed for a year to study the album, but stopped the project after six months because Refused came back.” So, Stefanie and Stijn indulged their old Starfucker fantasies of making original music they actually liked, and re-added Peter to their ranks. The resultant band became post-rock royalty.

Brutus are not a three-piece that want to rule the world. When asked what she wants ‘Unison Life’ to achieve, Stefanie answers, “I just want the opportunity to write the next album, tour again and make my parents proud.” But whether they want it or not, it’s hard to imagine a future where this band aren’t filling much bigger venues than they are now. They have the singalongs, the muscle and the live show to be stars.

‘Unison Life’ is out now via Hassle.

Brutus Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed November 16 2022 - BRISTOL Fleece
Thu November 17 2022 - MANCHESTER Rebellion
Fri November 18 2022 - GLASGOW Audio
Sat November 19 2022 - LEEDS Brudenell Social Club
Mon November 21 2022 - BRIGHTON Patterns
Tue November 22 2022 - LONDON Garage

Compare & Buy Brutus Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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