Big|Brave - A Gaze Among Them (Cover Artwork)


A Gaze Among Them (2019)

Southern Lord

Ultimately, A Gaze Among Them is an excellent test of your tolerance for space and atmosphere, if not outright patience. Here’s an SAT question for you to consider: The centerpiece of Big|Brave’s 2019 album is the 10-minute long “Body Individual;” does this song begin at the 0:01 mark, when its components are nothing more than echoing vocals and reverb, or does the song begin at 5:40, when these elements coagulate into what would be internationally recognized as ‘a song?’

Big|Brave make a compelling case for the former. In the press release announcing the album, the band stressed its focus on “space, tension, minimalism , and voice (finding melody and musicality in pieces that consist of one note for longer than ten minutes).” By that metric, it’s a success. The album’s five songs all come from an unquestionably stripped-down place. It favors harmonics over solos, texture and heft built by repetition, not composition. When confronted with the weight and size of a song like “Muted Shifting of Space” at its crest, part of the excitement is remembering that this behemoth comes from three people with limited gear, that the climax at the 6-minute mark was worth the climb.

This is probably a good place to get into genre, which is tricky. “Heavy rock” is the cleanest fit, but the least descriptive to the experience of A Gaze Among Them provides. Drone-metal is close, but, again, this is not an album of riffs and chops as much as an act of endurance. Shoe-gaze and post-punk are cousins, not direct blood. Post-rock is too passive, not deliberate enough. Suffice to say that if any of these sandboxes are to your liking, or if you are comfortable in metal-adjacent worlds, the record is worth your time, if only to gauge your own attention span.

What matters is how much you enjoy being trodden on, how much joy can be taken in seeing the iceberg and doing nothing to course correct, and if the crush is as fun as the anticipation. Would the impact of a song like “Muted Shifting” be as hard (drums like an insistent battering ram, guitars crushing like lead, lead singer Robin Wattie bellowing “You don’t get to do that / you don’t have to do that”) if not for the extended build-up and cool down? Would “Body Individual” be more effective if it was cut down from 10 minutes to, say 8 (there’s a lot of uh, space and minimalism being explored in its first five minutes)? Would “Holding Pattern” … well, actually, “Holding Pattern” is almost perfect, as far as build-up / payoff goes (those stabbing harmonics at the two-thirds mark are among the best guitar solos of the year).

In an interview with Treble, Wattie gives a hint to the album’s thematic intentions, which are “to explore what it means to not be a man, and being the object of a man’s desire or interest.” That context colors the experience of the album, from its song titles to its lyrics, but I can’t help but wonder if the atmosphere alone doesn’t do the job. Big|Brave has created an album about pressure; about living with in, living in it, and, when you can, releasing some of it. As much as it can sound like an album waiting to get to the fireworks factory, A Gaze Among Them can scream like the canary in the coal mine.