2016 in Review: Oathbreaker – “Rheia”

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Belgian Metal band Oathbreaker’s third full-length album, Rheia is all about extremes. It alternates between intensely chaotic and chillingly introspective, and often makes the shift with little to no warning. The most notable change in Oathbreaker’s music, however, is the more frequent use of melody by vocalist Caro Tanghe, who up until now mostly reserved her voice for screaming. Her screams on Rheia are as vicious as ever, but the addition of clean vocals to her palette allows for an impressive variety to Oathbreaker’s music, as well as showcases Tanghe’s versatility as an artist.

Rheia‘s opening track, “10:56,” begins with Tanghe singing very softly by herself for about a minute. Her vocals at this point are delivered with such introspection, it sounds as though she is singing to herself, unaware she is being recorded. After about a minute she sings, “the sun rose,” and a guitar begins to swell in, painting her words with dreary strokes of chords, suggesting that the sun may be coming out, but it will be a dismal morning.

“10:56,” transitions seamlessly into the next song, “Second Son of R.” which is the standout track on Rheia, in my opinion. It starts out very Black Metal, with its blast-beat, fast tremolo chords, and screaming combo. After a brief interlude of quiet guitar arpeggios, Tanghe starts to sing melodically again, first over the mellow section, but continues singing even when the music becomes heavy again. “Don’t make me pity you in the end,” she sings while guitarist, Lennart Bossu continues his arpeggios but with heavy distortion, and drummer, Ivo Debrabandere fills in the space. They then go back to the blast-beats and screaming, showing that even though they have added a lot more sounds and dynamic levels to their palette, they are still being themselves. The screaming at the end of this song is absolutely nuts. If nothing else, you should fast forward to 5:10 into this song and hear Tanghe absolutely lose her shit. It’s amazing.

Tanghe uses her voice melodically quite a bit on the rest of the album. “Being Able to Feel Nothing,” is as intense as any Oathbreaker song, but there is no screaming until 5 minutes in. The effect of this vocal restraint and subsequent release is extremely cathartic. The following song, “Stay Here / Accroche-Moi,” sounds more like indie-folk than metal, and features just acoustic guitar, singing, and some sparse electric guitar chords.

The next couple of songs, “Needles In Your Skin,” and “Immortals,” are both more like “Second Son of R,” in their energy, and the presence of both sung and screamed vocals . “Immortals” is another favorite of mine. The harmonized singing at the beginning is definitely the catchiest part of the whole album. The song chugs along at a pretty moderate tempo for a while. Somewhere in the middle, the instrumentation gets sparse as Debrabandere plays kind of a staggered heartbeat on the low toms. The song ends with a repeating post-rock kind of groove.

The following three tracks, “I’m Sorry, This Is,” “Where I Live,” and “Where I Leave,” all blend into each other. The first of the three is mostly instrumental, and features electronics, guitar swells, and field recordings. “Where I live,” starts out with the same ambient sounds that were all over the previous track, and then the band comes in, heavy hitting but slow. Then there is a fast blast-beat section that Tanghe sings over. The second half of “Where I Live,” goes back to the trademark Oathbreaker thrash. The last minute of the song is a long droning low note with higher pitches and occasional low single-beats swirling over it. A guitar comes in playing straight eighth notes at the end, and those sounds all transition into the beginning of the epic slow-building, “Where I Leave.”

The final track “Begeerte,” which is Dutch for “Desire,” begins with two overdubs of Tanghe’s voice overlapping each other in slow microtonal swoops. These vocal swells continue as the guitar comes in sparsely, and then the main vocal track comes in, and finally a simple rock beat on electronically distorted drums. The a capella introduction to “Begeerte,” hearkens back to the opening of the first track, “10:56,” and gives cohesion to the album as a whole. In listening to Rheia in its entirety, there are so many twists and turns that this return to the beginning is comforting and necessary to make such an eclectic album work. “Begeerte,” feels more settled, musically, than the creepy and introverted “10:56,” but it is not happy or resolved; it feels more like learning to live with your demons, rather than defeating them.

The thing I love about this album is that I recognize Oathbreaker throughout all of it, even though half of the time, it sounds nothing like Oathbreaker. When they are thrashy and metal, it sounds exactly like what I would expect from the band, but when they are more subdued, mellow, and melodic, it is a refreshing change. The new elements to their sound fit in perfectly with what they do, and if this is the beginning of this band really finding themselves, I am excited to see where they go from here.

Songs from Rheia you should listen to:

Because ROAR!!!: “Second Son of R.” Spotify Apple

Because it’s groovy and delicious: “Immortals” Spotify Apple

Because I can’t believe this is the same band: “Stay Here / Accroche-Moi” Spotify Apple

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