Stefanie Mannaerts – drums / vocals
Stijn Vanhoegaerden – guitar
Peter Mulders – bass
Brutus rage like a maelstrom. They are a meteor shower of sound. This trio from Leuven, Belgium create expansive, stratospheric punk quite unlike any other band around.
Here the searing, soaring guitars of shoegaze are amped up to hardcore punk speed, drums gallop like wild horses over open larval planes and drumming singer Stefanie Mannaerts offers some of the most impassioned vocals heard in recent times, capable of shifting from deceptively melodic to out-right larynx-punishing in the blink of an eye.
With post-rock construction, black metal dynamics, hardcore energy, prog and math-rock flourishes and pure pop melodies all detectible on their debut album Burst, Brutus manage to straddle the significant divide between Slayer and Savages, The Smiths and Slowdive, Dillinger Escape Plan and Deus – and all with just three members expertly colluding to make a sound as monolithic as it is emotive.
Bear witness to strident album opener ‘March’, a melodic blast of pure metallic energy that recalls the effervescent musical acrobatics of At The Drive-In full flight, or roaring lead single ‘All Along’, whose initial 4/4 beat belies an anthem that shows that Brutus write gargantuan songs too. Underground punk dudes they may be, but they have one eye on a world beyond the DIY scene that spawned them. Elsewhere ‘Looking For Love On Devil’s Mountain’ is thunderously melodic and closer ‘Child’ a thing of shimmering glacial beauty; part Mogwai-esque monumental musical work-out, part ethereal and elegiac (and ultimately frantic) punk rock epic.
Trouble comes in threes….and so do Brutus. They began life – and indeed met – playing a hardcore homage to Refused, regularly recreating the Swedish legends’ pivotal album The Shape Of Punk To Come in its entirety at tribute shows. Only when drummer Stefanie turned up to an audition to play a note-perfect version of the entire album, casually blowing away all-comers, did it become apparent that she was their secret weapon. “I’d heard about her around on the scene beforehand before I saw her play,” says bassist Peter Mulders . “Everyone told me I had to check this new female drummer who beat everyone else, hands down. And she did. Her talent is disarming. People just don’t expect it.”
When Refused did the unthinkable and reformed, it was time for Brutus to make their own shape of punk to come, which they did in early 2014. Friends for years, Stefanie and guitarist Stijn Vanhoegaerden had previously played together in Starfucker, while Peter had been in a teenage punk band. But Brutus offered a new beginning and whole new direction for a band formed without contrivance or fore-thought.
Finding a singer proved impossible, but working on a hunch that their multi- instrumentalist drummer was hiding a voice, Stijn and Peter conspired over several weeks and a good cop/bad cop routine to persuade Stefanie to take to the mic. The result was less a singer, and more an extra dynamic instrument to their sound – a vocalist who somehow recalls Cedric Bixler, Rachel Goswell, Geddy Lee, Perry Farrell and Brody Dalle, without directly sounding like any of them.
“Brutus was never about our shared influences, but instead three different personalities coming together and forming new friendships,” says Peter of their inception. “We’d don’t even necessarily like the same music. Stefanie loves black metal and likes playing blast-beats and Stijn loves The Smiths and Bruce Springsteen and played in a post-rock band, while I listen to anything from Kanye West through The Weeknd to NOFX. The way we each play our instruments may not work individually, and our tastes are often in conflict, but somehow it all comes together when the three of us are writing songs or step onto a stage.”
Throughout 2014-2015 Brutus did just that, playing over a hundred shows (including UK dates with similarly dynamic kindred spirits Raketkanon) and unleashed a triptych of killer singles: seven-inch only, two tracks each, all recorded over one energised weekend, then hand numbered, the DIY way. 333 copies. Sonically these early recordings recalled the layered texturing of My Bloody Valentine and the crushing black-hearted heaviness of Cult Of Luna, but with a rough-edged, gutter punk sensibility.
Also in 2015 with Record Store Day approaching and no gigs in place, Brutus instead launched their own Tattoo Store Day, where they hosted a raucous whiskey-fuelled day in a friend’s tattoo parlour where fans could buy their records and get inked at the same time. So if you’re wondering why people are wandering around Leuven, Antwerp, Ghent and Brussels with cryptic-looking logos on their biceps and forearms – that’s why. “What was just some accidental fun is now being taught on a local music college course as an example of excellent marketing,” laughs Peter.
In April 2016 Brutus decamped to Vancouver to record Burst, reasoning that because Flanders – the Dutch-speaking area of northern Belgium – is so small that any recordings done at home would surely be interrupted by hard-partying well-wishers gate-crashing the studio day and night.
It was a wise move. Burst is a 21st century rock album: challenging and exhilarating. Colossal. A cathedral-sized noise. A unique listening experience. Brutus are here.