As someone who has significantly dabbled in exploring unseen worlds, The Brave caught my attention by naming their sophomore album Aura. The album cover itself seems to capture the barely there colours of an auric field, comprised of light or energy. I was keen to go deeper into this concept through the eleven tracks, ahead of the album’s release on Friday 5th April, via UNFD.
Beginning with “Through The Dark”, The Brave paint a dark atmosphere, along with eerie spacey kind of melodies prior to hitting into something stronger and steadier. With vocals in virtual isolation, we’re drawn into the experience of being alone in the dark and contemplating what they’re feeling; something overwhelming and oppressive. As I’d experienced when seeing The Brave live, the vocals and the stories shared lyrically seem to be the focal point.
Thematically, “Through The Dark” shares a vibe of historical sacrifice, which they’re now giving up and running away from. Blowing out in the chorus, the fuller and more furious sound shares a sense of that urgency of escape. My attention is (happily!) drawn to the bass at the second verse, soon dropping into something more fierce and desperate sonically, with vocals shifting to match. The bridge keeps a hectic sense of tension up and moments of piano add a side of compassion to the story. I notice something tender and bonding along with the tension of escape; connecting with those in the same situation and uniting to run.
I feel like I’ve listened to “Technicolor” a million times! The Brave share something akin to the use of psychedelics, and the insecurity that comes with it. I appreciated the image that was created with this song; of seeing the world around you as not as it should be, and being scared that you’re going to lose yourself along with it. In the wake of “Through The Dark”, it comes across as using drugs as a means to escape the state of bombardment/containment.
While it’s catchy, anthemic, neat, and musically solid, I just get an impression that The Brave could push the limits a bit more. For one example, returning to the electro beat at the last chorus is kind of a downer after the hugeness/fierceness of the bridge. While it’s a good song, it just feels like more is possible from these very skilled musicians and I wanted to be wowed.
Flowing into “Out Of Reach”, the blunt, punchy, big, and noisy track seems to be a continuation of “Technicolor” by way of themes; a disconnect from oneself. I appreciated the layered beats/rhythms that head into the chorus, and climb as well as pummel. This had me picture a head full of noise with no clear path or direction out of it.
Also similarly to “Technicolor”, the track thematically came across as going through an experience where there’s a massive shift of understanding/perspective which changes everything. This includes changing how you see concepts that formerly seemed solid and unchanging, such as time. If I’m correctly reading between the lines, there’s mention of meditative focus upon a candle flame, which could offer an escape as well as shifts of understanding.
Definitely feeling far less safe, “Out Of Reach” was a great track to soak in, with an interesting song structure. I’m a fan of the riff after the chorus and the vicious dive into a focus upon the guitar. An instrumental bridge pulls focus into a really stunning moment at the last verse. It’s big and moving, before falling back out of it into the chorus.
I loved “Ethereal” when it was released, and I still appreciate it. It ties in to the previous tracks with references to light and darkness, as well as coming to terms with new understandings. Lyrically, I’m understanding the song as saying how we’re ignoring our nature as ‘sparks of light’ and instead existing as hollow vessels of the dark who are ‘forced to fight’.
The song is great; huge, and infectious, with a hint of unease. Vocalist Nathan Toussaint’s voice can come across really brash and blunt at times, but I’m noticing that The Brave’s songs feature some really poetic lines such as “Press your ears to the stillness, do you hear the muted cries?”. Again this conjures up images of someone in a meditative state, recognising an undercurrent to existence that goes on relatively unnoticed.
The chorus could be seen as a reminder that we are ethereal (tying into the ‘aura’ concept of light and energy) more than just empty vessels going through the motions of competition, greed, war, and consumption – and that there’s something to be gained by many of us remembering this. As much as this could just be a personal song about someone’s experience in knowing themselves as spirit/energy in a body, it comes across as something more outwardly directed, seeking a collective shift of perspective.
Fifth track “Lost To The Night” is more electronic sounding and sparkling at its beginning, before quickly detailing something cold and distant. It comes across as a gradually fading relationship, with connection/communication dying. There’s self-frustration and big choruses here. While there’s nothing really ‘wrong’ with the song musically, I found myself expecting the structure and feeling like ‘Yep, I already know this’ when it played out exactly as expected.
I feel like “Lost To The Night” is where the album began to lose its grip upon me. While writing this review, I came across an interview with the band, where they were aware they had previously played it safe with their music (in particular in their 2016 album Epoch) and were determined to not do that with Aura. I just am not feeling that to be true.
For an example, there’s the use of the same line in “Through The Dark”: “with stolen skin over hollow shells”. When I first recognised this, I was excited about an ongoing thread through the album, but when I attempted to take the songs in with this lens, there just wasn’t enough difference with the two songs to pack a punch thematically. I was also surprised when the song just faded out at its ending.
I wanted to see meaning and reason in these kinds of choices, but it just wasn’t clear, and I found it hard to give close and detailed attention to the tracks from this point onward. I sought for “Burn” to thump me with the self-sacrificial “I would jump into the flames with you” level of sacrifice, but I didn’t feel it. I was reminded of the guarded/insular vibe that I felt at The Brave’s gig, and how they were musically strong and good, but it was hard to connect in with.
It seemed odd to me that the title track of Aura was more like R&B than metalcore or rock, and came without seeming to touch into the aura theme at all. With lyrics like “Without you there’s no oxygen in my lungs” and “Without you I’m a bullet without the gun” it just came across as someone sad that their lover is gone. The sound, coupled with the disconnect with the theme, and the fact it was the title track meant that “Aura” came across as an interlude track more than anything making a statement. I really would love to understand why this was what the band went with!
“Desolation” lifted things up a little, with the energy and emotion coming across really well in the wake of “Aura”, and I appreciated the rawness of the vocals and intensity of the instrumentation. The “Oh god, just let me breathe!” line is where The Brave got it right, and for that moment there seemed to be nothing held back. But the dreamier melodic behind the verses just didn’t seem to fit with what I understood as a song about someone on the brink of death or destruction, whether it’s internal/figuratively speaking.
I kept hoping for a resuscitation, and thought it showed up in “Dragged Down”, appreciating the contemplative piano and the strength and layers of its introduction. But unfortunately the chorus fell flat for me. With ferocity and strength at the second verse, it was seeming like The Brave were falling into a pattern of nailing it really strongly at times yet not at all at others, and the result being an unfortunate middle ground. This recurred with my enjoyment of the explosive bridge and subsequent guitar work, before returning to weaker beats leading into the final chorus. I also couldn’t place how this fit in the aura theme (if intended to).
Album closer “Goodbye” provided a sedate and solemn ending to Aura. The track comes across as an open letter to a loved one that is no longer around, and fittingly has an absence of drums until the second verse. I really wrestled with myself as to why I found it hard to feel the emotion behind lines like “I wish I got to hug you one last time”, feeling something more of a numbness than anything. It was at the second verse of “Goodbye” where The Brave hit brilliantly (reminding me of She Cries Wolf‘s Liar album), and I’d have loved to see more of these cuts of strength and rhythmic intensity on Aura. In fact that sums up Aura for me: I wish they’d gone more all-in. As much as they’ve intended to not play it safe, it feels like that has occurred here.
I appreciated what was shared in “Ethereal”, and I was excited about the track’s theme of light and energy being explored throughout Aura. I also wanted to feel the emotions of instability, confusion, seeking, and I found that hard to tap into here. I’ve ended up feeling like I had the idea of Aura completely wrong. Have I misunderstood the intention?
It’s possible that the theme could have been succcessfully shared via an EP, and that a full album has potentially watered down the concept. It’s also not necessarily an easy prospect to dive into relatively ‘out there’ themes. But for the resulting music to hit, I feel that a band has to go unflinchingly, uncompromisingly at it. I’m reminded of The Comfort and their sharings in What It Is To Be, and the sense of risk they felt in talking existentially and reflecting about life and what our purpose is. These are important topics, and I had expected to see something similar in this album.
As I’d found with The Brave’s live show, this band features very good musicians – consistently so – but I feel that they need to perhaps allow some vulnerability to allow a greater connection with listeners. At their show, it was when they changed things up and intended to be more intimate with the crowd that things felt the best. THAT had the aura of something important, connective, and inspiring – which I had seen glimmers of earlier in the album. I look forward to something from The Brave that carries them into something that feels more open.
Musically solid. Album showcases that The Brave are capable of intense and raw moments as well as gentler, subtle ones.
The song structure unfortunately felt predictable often, and I sought to resonate more deeply with what was being shared. I couldn't find a thread with the songs by way of 'aura', as hard as I tried. Would love for something far more vulnerable and open from The Brave in the future.