Life can be a pit of torment for those not so fortunate. Or even for those who have everything you’d think they’d ever need. Things can eat away at your psyche like a hungry animal chewing at your bones, and trying to find a way to cope with that isn’t always an easy thing. Or even possible.
Tackling “Rheia,” the stunning new record from Belgian band Oathbreaker, the pain and discomfort is palpable. The chaos and hurt drips from these 10 songs, and the heaviness of this record isn’t just in the metallic power. It’s in the words and the way the music is expressed, and there’s no way to avoid the tidal wave of emotion that crashes over these songs. The things and events that color and bruise our lives often can begin in our earliest, most formative days, and many people who have been followed by ghosts their entire lives often took on those scars when they were young. That’s another element that hits heavy as a mountain on “Rheia,” and the visions of one’s earlier days—in this case Oathbreaker’s singer Caro Tanghe—land like a heavyweight blow to the chest, leaving you gasping with the wind knocked out of your lungs.
The amazing weight of this record not only comes from the words that drip blood but also from the playing. Simply put, Oathbreaker have made an incredible transformation between records two (2013’s powerful “Eros|Anteros”) and three. The growth and maturation in the songwriting, the understanding of nuances, the identification of when to embrace serenity and when to rip off heads is spot on. Guitarist Lennart Bossu, bassist Gilles Demolder, and drummer Ivo Debrabandere not only rely on their hardcore roots but also mix in doom, black metal, and moody atmospherics to achieve an immersive, full-bodied sound. And it’s not like they were slouches before this! As for Tanghe, this is her finest hour. She has become one of the best voices in all of heavy music, able to howl like the gates of hell have opened and sing as lovely as anyone when delicacy is needed. All of this is combined with her painstaking words that dig deep into the heart and soul, shaking you to your core.
“10:56” and “Second Son of R” open the record as conjoined tracks (they even released a video containing the two cuts together). The first song begins a capella, with Tanghe recounting someone plunging out of a window and landing face-first on the cobblestone. Bleeding and in disrepair, the music enters and rises as Tanghe melds along with them into a horrific explosion. From there, memories of childhood dash across the frantic song, laying waste to everything, poking at memories dashed with rejection and filth. The screams and growls are fire-breathing and dangerous, as the guitars crush and over the chorus, through gritted teeth, Tanghe wails, “Don’t make me pity you.” The song sounds like it’s buttoning up, going cold and quiet, before hell engulfs the world, and animalistic, surely cathartic cries blast from Tanghe’s body almost as if she can’t control the emotion. “Being Able to Feel Nothing” exposes itself from its title, as dark fury pelts and raspy singing uncovers “the stains I’ll never manage to remove.” The lava pours anew toward the end, and Tanghe wails the title over and over again. “Stay Here” pulls back some, with acoustic guitars leading, the singing as strong as anywhere, and a touch of noir adding more shadow. “Needles In Your Skin” is another highlight, with clean singing and Tanghe calling, “I’m reaching out for you,” before the guts are torn out. The storm hovers overhead and tears down walls, with the track trudging, melody merging with volatility, and Tanghe wondering, “How could you go without me?”
“Immortals,” an interesting title if you know anything about the myth of Rheia, has slurry singing and a punchy tempo before the lid if pulled off. The pace explodes, with terrifying howls switching off with passionate singing, the pace crushing but sometimes bringing serenity, and later the pounding arriving all over. Tanghe sings over the smoke pits, while the guitars gaze, and the song comes to an atmospheric end. The next three cuts are interconnected, with “I’m Sorry, This Is” a pocket of ambiance and peripheral noise, mixing into “Where I Live” that has sounds penetrating and voices buried beneath. The song then takes off, with horrible cries and screams cutting through the center, and noise squalls pushing into “Where I Leave.” There, guitars chime, and a fog situates over it all, with the pace plodding along as Tanghe levels, “I’ll be a lonely child.” The song has ample amounts of power, though it’s widely delivered at mid-pace, and the ending run of refrain repetition and hypnotic playing leave your head spinning. Closer “Begeerte” has voices spiraling in a vortex before clean guitars drip, static drums punch holes, and a pace that feels like feet trying to make their way through thick mud spreads. “I draw pleasure from it,” Tanghe calls, as the song begins to lift off from the earth and disintegrate into the sky.
Oathbreaker truly have come into their own three records in their run with “Rheia.” The performances from every member are top notch, and the depths into which these songs dig make them unforgettable and dangerously effective. These songs will reach deep within you and perhaps even poke at pain you’ve long since stored away. This is one of the most powerful records of the year, and it could just be the beginning of this band doing really incredible things.
For more on the band, go here: http://theoathbreakerreigns.com/
To buy the album, go here: http://store.deathwishinc.com/category/new.html
For more on the label, go here: http://www.deathwishinc.com/