Monday, December 1, 2008

Brave - Monuments

Somewhere, off the wind-beaten coast of England, north by the Scotland border, a woman stands alone at the top of a grassy knoll. The North Atlantic wind whips around her, mist billowing in swirling patterns, her white gown flowing. A darkened manor lies in the distance, standing like a solitary sentinel. She turns slowly, a tear in her eye, remembering something, someone who had left so long ago. Her eyes cast again across the horizon, searching for his return.

Occupying the vast territory between the symphonic metal of Nightwish and the gentler, classical-tinged prog of Mostly Autumn, you’ll find Washington D.C.’s Brave in all their glory. Imagine if Emily and Charlotte Bronte had decided to form a heavy metal band, Jane Eyre and the Wurthering Heights, there's no doubt this is what they'd sound like. Deeply atmospheric metal, with traces of goth and hints of classical. Powerful and mournful. As diaphanous as that English mist and as raw as a broken heart.

The best way I can describe them is Romantic Metal.

Lacking the bombastic pretensions of the overblown symphonic metal bands or the limp-wristed doldrums of some pastoral prog, led by the brother and sister team of Scott and Michelle Loose, Brave occupy a territory all their own. Michelle Looses’ voice is achingly beautiful, dripping with sensitivity without wallowing in melodrama. Never afraid to let her tone warble or squeak, it is a voice that can sing metal one one day then Enya the next, all without being out of place. It’s a voice that sings out across the mist-laden moors, searching for that lost love. A voice that can carry you away to another time and space, an otherworldly era of loneliness and loss.

Adding to this aching romance is the fact that Brave has a violin and they’re not afraid to use it. Layering in with the beefy guitars, strains of Suvo Sur's violin resonate, adding a Celtic air to the metal, a lacing of delicacy over the ferocious riffs. Very few bands have ever used the violin tone this effectively and it adds tremendous depth to the Gothic romantic feel of the album. Not hidden in the background, the violin slices through the riff, filling the space where a traditional metal band would bring in a guitar solo or possibly a synth fill. But don’t worry, oh metalheads, there's no doubt about it, this is a metal album and there’s no lack of guitar here. Brought to you by the twin guitar attack of Scott Loose and Matt Kozar, the riffs are mighty crashing affairs and solos fly about with all the wizardry you'd want, tastefully restrained and direct. And when the violin leads off, with the guitar slicing in, it plays to dramatic, near celestial effect.
I'm serious, this is about as sublime and beautiful as metal can get. Powerful, laced with drama, laden with emotion. I'm getting shivers just thinking about it.

"Hold On," begins with a blast of guitar, staggering into a metal riff, Michelle's voice drifting in, aching of loneliness and longing while the boys start pummeling the earth behind her, riding the hell out of that simple, yet effective guitar riff. Things blast off into technical prog territory during the soaring chorus, then we get that first taste, a teasing appetizer of the violin. Later Suvo brings it back to full, whopping effect, blasting through the bridge, while Trevor Schrotz and Ben Kelly keep the band locked into the metal groove behind him. Not complex, but a stunning result of excellent musicianship.

"Hero," one of the best cuts on the album doesn't keep you in suspense nearly as long waiting for the violin, it tears off right from the opening riff, slashing through the stuttering riffs, slicing through the pounding drums. And when I say keep you in suspense, I really mean that. Brave's use of the violin adds such a unique atmospheric touch that you search for it, you yearn for it, your ears perked, just waiting for the classical Celtic beauty of Suvo's playing to take you away. Again, strong guitar work under Michelle's voice propels the song, large sweeping guitar parts, grand, epic in scale. Doomy in tone, not execution. Gothic in all the best ways.

"Hurt," streams out next, another highlight and probably Michelle's best vocal performance on the album, just draped in sensitivity and mournful pain. Guitars squeal in and out of feedback harmonics, drums pounding out a stampeding beat while the violin layers across it all. Trust me, this is a freaking beautiful metal song, which isn't something often said of metal. And when the violin rips off it's solo three minutes in, immediately followed by the first major guitar solo of the album, it can take your breath away. If you know anyone who thinks metal is a bruiser-headed music for neanderthals, play them this track and you'll actually be able to hear their minds changing.

I'm not going to detail every track here, but believe me I could. Each listen brings a new experience with this one, a new emotion, a new discovery. Brave have crafted a unique world for their metal to reside, a place of gossamer beauty. You can almost hear the drums echoing down the empty hallways of the manor, the violin playing out the desolation, the guitars wailing in the passion.

And still, upon her grassy knoll, the woman waits. the wind still beating around her. Waiting, forever waiting.

--Racer

www.bravemusic.com

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