ARTIST: BRUTUS

TITLE: LIVE IN GHENT

LABEL: HASSLE RECORDS

RATING: 8/10

WORDS: TOM COLES

It is, regrettably, still 2020 and most of us haven’t seen live music in months – let alone in the close, brutal confines of hardcore venues. Releasing a live album feels strange – an echo from the distant past, more than a little bit quaint and anachronistic. 

It’s understandable to have mixed feelings here, but there’s a lot to warm the heart. Aside from bolstering faith that live shows will return (they will), good live albums present what works best for a band in a live environment, stripping away layers, polish and overdubs. This is especially true for heavy music, and especially true for Brutus.

Recorded in a 750-cap venue, Live In Ghent is a dramatic and dynamic display of Brutus’s particular mastery of the live stage. Brutus are among the best live performers of modern hardcore – already a high bar – and their impassioned performance comes to life here as they revisit the extraordinary highlights of their career.

One of the most successful techniques coming into the live stage is their knack for economical songwriting. Often a track will end fairly abruptly, cutting out any unnecessary indulgence – leaving room for many more, ferocious offerings, which spill out like rapid hammer blows. This is particularly important for an extended set, giving them more room to add more songs into a stacked lineup, and is apparent from the snappy closing notes of opener Fire.

“their impassioned performance comes to life here as they revisit the extraordinary highlights of their career.

The real star here is drummer and vocalist Stefanie Mannaerts, whose bellows, nestled between percussive bursts, are thunderous and dominating. Here the passion and the fury of Brutus is captured brilliantly; as well as an impressive physical feat, it’s a deft and emotional vocal performance, offset by the understated addresses to the rapt audience. Mannaerts is as comfortable with explosions of fury as she is with Bj√∂rk-esque vocalisation and elegant swoops and trills. Elsewhere the instrumentation is stretched to bursting point, alternately violent and anthemic, with tracks like Child featuring long stretches of jangly, atmospheric textural guitars. The bass, deep and gloomy, cuts through, providing an anchor which stops the whole performance from descending into chaos.

Having said that there are plenty of moments where the chaos is fully embraced, where the crowd seem most enthused; it’s a strange experience now to hear a mass of people react in such a way, but it is heartening to hear a crowd subdued in the quieter moments, crash against one another in the throes of ecstasy and react rapturously to whispered words of thanks. It’s life-affirming, and particularly fitting for a band who bring so much to a performance to get such an earnest response. 

“IT GIVES US WHAT WE ALL NEED: a genuine and heartfelt short, sharp shock to jolt us back into feeling alive as we crest through the last few months of the year.

Brutus aren’t particularly inclined towards album filler. But here there’s even more of a focus on their most successful tracks, presenting the best of their back catalogue in a fluid flow of material, comfortable with moving between moods – soulful, tense, pensive, triumphant. It’s an excellent snapshot of where their successful career has taken them. 

2020 has disrupted the release schedule for most bands, and has sent plenty of people scrabbling around in the vaults for B-sides to release to keep things going; demos, remixes, alternate takes. There’s a lot of gold to be found this way, and of all the trends of 2020 this release philosophy is one that should continue. However, a purposeful live record has an established purpose – to present a band as a commanding presence in the live arena, which Brutus have done an excellent job to capture. Releases like this hit home a lot more than miscellaneous releases, and have a much clearer direction; this is a particularly successful example

Ultimately, Brutus’s songwriting economy and knack of bursts of ferocity gives us what we all need; a genuine and heartfelt short, sharp shock to jolt us back into feeling alive as we crest through the last few months of the year.

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