Oathbreaker - “Rheia”
Oathbreaker is a hardcore punk act from Belgium that formed in 2008. Before the release of this LP, they released a self-titled EP and two studio LPs, Maelstrom and Eros/Anteros, respectively. On Eros/Anteros, the band decided to experiment more with post-metal influences that you would find in bands such as Neurosis and Isis, which really gave them a name in the underground, and rightfully so. Now, it’s been three years, and the group decided to put out a brand new LP entitled Rheia. Listening to the first song these guys released on this LP got me excited enough to listen to it, but man did I not see what was coming. We have a total of ten tracks coming out to just over an hour, and in this time-span the group releases something that is absolutely jaw-dropping. This is an LP that is unlike ANYTHING I have heard this year, so I want to cut the crap and get right into this colossus of an LP.
The LP opens up with “10:56.” The majority of this track is acapella, with vocalist Caro Tanghe singing melancholically about someone that she once knew. She is joined only by a really eerie guitar. This song breaks right into “Second Son of R,” which opens with one of the loudest, most emotional bangs I have ever heard in my life. The instrumental is completely black metal inspired, with Caro screaming at the top of her lungs. Drummer Ivo Debrabandere really shows off his talent on this, smashing the percussion to sheer oblivion. That’s not to discredit the beautiful guitars done by Lennart Bossu and the rumbling bass from Giles Demolder. Truly though, Caro really shows off on this song. Her voice goes from gut-wrenching screams to heart-breaking cleans, which instantly remind me of Bjork, especially on Vulnicura. This becomes more apparent with the lyrics, which really have gotten to me on multiple occasions. The icing on the cake, however, is the ending. It starts off with a kind of reprisal of “10:56,” with more lyrics about that mysterious person Caro once knew. And then, out of fucking nowhere, after Caro says “You’ll never know the person I’ve become,” the song just fucking explodes into a series of blast-beats and Caro screaming her fucking life out. When they first released this song, especially with the music video that went with it, I fell in instant love. These two songs are pretty much the perfect introduction to the LP, and really set the tone for what is to come.
The next song is “Being Able to Feel Nothing,” which opens up with a slower, but equally black metal-esque instrumental, with Caro creepily singing “Play with me, play with me.” She starts to sing about a beast playing her in chest until he’s bored, which I can only imagine represents some troubling repressed emotion. It’s also weird hearing an Oathbreaker song that is almost entirely sung instead of screamed, but it also adds a much more emotional side to the band, especially when it comes to “the stains I will never manage to remove.” Caro returns to screaming by the end of the song as the instrumental gets post-metal. Every time she repeats the lines “being able to feel nothing,” it gets more and more emotional for me, and the instrumental heavier and heavier. The LP continues with the next song “Stay Here / Accroche-Moi,” which is an entirely clean trsck with Caro singing about the life she lived with the person she has been singing about. The instrumental is pretty much acoustic throughout, with additional guitars for atmosphere. This song almost sounds like a love-song just looking at the lyrics, but listening to Caro singing these lyrics is nothing short of depressing.
Next up on the LP is “Needles in Your Skin,” which was the first song released for this LP. The intro is relatively soft, with Caro singing and the instrumental kind of just building up until it at one point, Cara screams, and the song goes into the black-metal style the band has been developing over the course of the LP. Towards the mid-point, Caro searches for a light in this person. This breaks into her constantly asking “How could you go without me?” The song then breaks into Caro screaming, and is followed by beautiful tremolo guitars and a super hard-hitting drum. This song closes out with a large wall of noise, and then goes into my personal favorite, “Immortals.”
This song starts off so beautifully, with a bit of harmony in the vocals. This goes into screaming about denial. Throughout this part of the song, it switches between the more harmonic vocals and the harsher vocals constantly. As the vocals change, the band changes their pace. With the more harmonic vocals, the instrumental is much slower and more drawn out, but once she starts screaming, it gets a bit faster. Towards the 3:30 part, the song breaks into a very clean instrumental interlude, with a post-rocky sounding guitar over a steady drumline. Caro describes her eaten-out heart, until she concludes “I am stone.” The instrumental breaks out into what is honestly my favorite outro to any song in 2016. It's nothing short of tear-jerking. The guitars and bass are loud as hell, and the drum is absolutely blood-pumping. Every moment during this roughly two minute outro is super emotional for me, which is honestly my favorite thing about this band. Yes, I am talking a lot about how Caro is one of the most emotional vocalists I have heard this year, but I don’t want that to subtract from how fucking amazing the instrumental behind Oathbreaker is, because they are equally as important. Rheia would simply not be the LP it is without them, and I think that “Immortals” manages to show off each individual member’s specific talent in the group. Not to mention, each transition in this song is fucking beautifully crafted, especially the one that leads to the outro.
The next song on this LP is “I’m Sorry, This Is,” which is pretty much an interlude, and another interesting track for Oathbreaker as it is very…electronic? Man, when I say these guy went far out for this LP, they truly fucking did. It serves as a really nice break from the rest of the LP, and makes a nice break before the final three tracks. “Where I Live” starts off with a continuation of the previous song before breaking into post-metal, with the vocals being sung very quietly and eerily. This part leads into the more black metal side of the group, as the vocals become louder and very harmonic, as they were on “Immortals.” Like many of the other songs on this LP, this song really knows how to transition, but in this case it goes from a really heavy section of the song into a much more droned out, electronic part of the song. There’s a clean guitar that connects to the next track, “Where I Leave,” which is the longest, and quite honestly, most heart-breaking song of the entire LP. The intro maintains the outro of “Where I Live” for pretty close to two minutes, and then as that part of the song begins to fade, we are introduced to a new riff with a very slow but heavy drum pattern. The first lyric to come on this song is “I’ll be a lonely child forever,” and it just continues to get worse, especially when the word “sin” is repeated. This song is relatively soft, up until a little after the halfway point, where it gets pretty damn heavy. Yet, despite the heaviness in the instrumental, Caro never screams on this song. It’s entirely sung and filled with the depression that permeates this LP. There really is no way to tug on my heart strings more than to repeatedly sing the lyrics “I’ll be a lonely child” at the end of your song. The ending then leads into “Begeerte,” which is another really soft, eerie, and super depressing track with an electronic addition. It serves as the perfect outro, summarizing what this LP is about, and melodically functions as a sort of reprisal of the first few tracks. My absolute favorite thing, however, is that it doesn’t offer resolution. Not all stories end happily.
Listening to the LP and reviewing the lyrics, it becomes pretty clear what this LP is about. Whenever Caro seems to refer to herself on the LP, it is as a child. On “Where I Leave,” he mentions how she was nurtured in a broken house. This LP is about her growing up with either a neglective or abusive parent. Maybe both. Looking at the name of the LP, I think it’s safe to assume this is about her mother. There’s an obvious theme of alcohol and drug abuse as told from the very first set of lyrics on the LP: “The time you plunged into the gray cobblestones of a back alley to our house,” and the mentions of the drunken body she left behind on “Second Son of R,” and of course a song titled “Needles in Your Skin” is an obvious heroin reference. It’s also made clear throughout the LP that, despite the strained relationship Caro seems to have had with her mother, she wanted to do her best to love her. Of course, as announced pretty early in the LP, Rheia became “meaningless” when she died. Despite this concept, however, I related to the LP in a different way. A few months back, my three-year relationship came to an expected but nevertheless upsetting end. The person I was with changed in a lot of ways, and became a person I really didn’t recognize at a point. Nevertheless, I tried to keep the relationship alive. However, after a few months of questioning, she decided to end things, and I was pretty much left in a hole of my own despair. When I listen to some of these lyrics, especially like “Second Son of R,” “Immortals,” and “Where I Live,” I find myself relating. It makes the experience all the more transcendent and personal for me.
This LP is nothing short of a masterpiece in my eyes. Each and every moment is filled with despair and melancholy, but presented in the most beautiful and twisted of ways. This is an LP that bands from any sort of extreme music genre could only dream of releasing. Purging negative emotions is very easy, especially in more rock-oriented music, but it’s really hard to create an LP that is both constantly lightest and perfectly performed. It’s amazing to see how Oathbreaker manages to be so downbeat, from the very heaviest moments of this LP to the very softest. The drums are loud and crunchy. The bass is heavy and rumbling. The guitars are noisy and melodic. The vocals are passionate and broken. There hasn’t been an LP that was this beautiful of a trainwreck since Converge’s magnum opus Jane Doe some fifteen years ago.
In brief, do I love this thing? No, I fucking adore it. I refuse to rate it, however. I think even slapping a perfect 10 on this LP would be offensive to how perfect it truly is, because to me, this is more than just an LP. This is one of those very rare occasions where a band releases something that is really going to go down in metal and punk history. From the raw emotion in the instrumental to the vocals of a broken woman to the tear-jerking lyrics, this thing is, again, a masterpiece. I hope Rheia will be recognized and celebrated in music for a long, long time.