Black metal fans are a notoriously tetchy bunch, often feeling the need to defend their chosen genre from perceived impostors (see: Deafheaven). Those who demand only the ‘trve kvlt’ variety of black metal may wish to avoid ‘Rheia’, the latest album from Belgium’s Oathbreaker.
The first clue that ‘Rheia’ is not your average black metal album comes in the opener ’10:56′, singer Caro Tanghe’s plaintive unaccompanied melody finally joined by guitars emerging from the gloom at around the one minute mark. Second track ‘Second Son of R.’ puts us in more familiar territory with its blast-beats and tremolo guitars, but one never gets the sense that Oathbreaker are trotting out old black metal clichés for the sake of fitting into some genre stereotype. There are plenty of moments of contrast where the emphasis is on clean vocals and rich guitar harmonies, which make the more conventional black metal elements sound all the more vital. When Tanghe screams, it’s because she’s expressing genuine anguish; when the band use blast-beats or tremolo guitars, it’s to create a needling, claustrophobic atmosphere.
It might be unfair to bang on about how ‘Rheia’ is or is not a black metal album, when a more fitting description of Oathbreaker‘s sound would invoke a word dreaded by black metal fans. While ‘emo’ might be considered a derogatory term by some, Oathbreaker‘s blackened post-hardcore demonstrates that the two aren’t such strange bedfellows, recalling the earliest days of emocore, when bands like Rites of Spring first blended melody, emotional intensity and hardcore ferocity.
[contentblock id=141 img=adsense.png]
On ‘Being Able to Feel Nothing’, Oathbreaker sound like a blackened version of Deftones, another band who mix metal influences with post-hardcore and indie rock. Tanghe‘s cracked and desperate vocals are particularly reminiscent of Deftones frontman Chino Moreno, and the earth-shattering riff that hits at around the five minute mark doesn’t hurt the comparison.
Some black metal fans might balk at acoustic track ‘Stay Here / Accroche-Moi’, but it sounds entirely appropriate in the context of the album. Meanwhile, ‘Needles In Your Skin’ is the closest the band come to writing a straightforward black metal song; if one were to replace Tanghe’s damaged singing with a more standard raspy scream it could pass for something by Cascadian black metallers Wolves in the Throne Room.
The album ends with one of its more subdued tracks in ‘Begeerte’, but it hardly goes out with a whimper. After such an emotionally exhausting album (running to over an hour in length), this is the perfect way to let the listener down gently.
Despite the album’s lengthy running-time, there is not a moment of filler; every track feels essential, gripping. It might not be ‘trve kvlt’; Oathbreaker might not wear corpsepaint, or sing about Satanism; but by combining musical elements of black metal with the stark emotionality of emo and post-hardcore, they bring a new kind of extremity to a genre in which there is too often a lack of truly extreme new music.
‘Rheia’ is out now via Deathwish Inc.