The first two albums from Church of Ra-affiliated Belgians Oathbreaker were fiery slabs of dark anger which nevertheless possessed hints of invention: gaining the band a reputation further enhanced with an incendiary set at last year’s Damnation festival. Nothing, however, pointed to the emotional might and unbridled creativity of new album Rheia (Deathwish Inc.)
Those accustomed to the withering scream of vocalist Caro Tanghe will be immediately taken aback by her sad lamentation during brief opener ’10:56′, possessing pained, edgy harmony reminiscent of Big|Brave’s Robin Wattie. This slides into the more familiar, slashing savagery of ‘Second Son of R.’, yet this too is interspersed by more heartfelt lilts, carried by AmenRa guitarist Lennart Bossu’s emotive Post-hardcore leadplay and Ivo Debrabandere’s phenomenal, switching stickwork. It’s a power steeped in tragedy, the Blackened elements only truly emerging with the coda, and it encourages a spiritual engagement not previously encountered.
‘Being Able to Feel Nothing’ sees a Post-black feel course through a largely mid-paced yet spiked number, Tanghe’s shrill clean vocal piercing the senses with Punkish intent, at breaking point as it switches to the scream. ‘Stay Here / Accroche Moi’, meanwhile, sees a desolate Torch-style vocal caress a plaintive acoustic ballad which, far from “wimping out”, displays a wonderful ability to incorporate different elements into the Oathbreaker sound whilst still exuding that bitter fire.
Having gently just referred to “Thorns in my veins”, Caro lends ‘Needles in Your Skin’ and ‘Immortals’ similarly delicate yet intense tones. The coruscating, skin-flaying explosion which follows is a violent outpouring of agony and resentment: the tracks fluctuating between these two disparate elements with the occasionally febrile execution giving the impression that they have always belonged together.
An exquisite trilogy then ensues: the growing atmospheric ambience of ‘I’m Sorry, This Is’ howling into the tense, passionate yet initially ponderous ‘Where I live’, those of us with open tastes continuing to delight in the mix of impassioned harmonies and Post-black rampage. ‘Where I Leave’s’ subtly picked intro is sparingly accompanied by grave piano and will doubtless become the choice for many an interment or freshly broken heart, whilst still managing to keep the listener on the edge of their seat with its ever-so-gradually swelling intensity.
The ethereal sirens of the beautiful ‘Begeerte’ close a simply breath-taking, remarkable album: one which CoR talisman Colin H. van Eeckhout describes as “Game-changing”. You’ll find it hard to disagree. Piquing every mood in the book is not something you’d expect from a purportedly Blackened Hardcore outfit, but Oathbreaker have always threatened to be much more than that. Rheia is the sound of them delivering all that promise and a whole world more.