Oathbreaker – Rheia

3 out of 5

Label: Deathwish

Produced by: Jack Shirley

I really don’t know where I sit on Oathbreaker.  Prior to Rheia, I had a clearer take on this Belgian hardcore group, who started off in a punky, thrashy vein and then expanded their metal horizons on their excellent Sophomore release, the latter album especially bearing a distinct touch from producer Kurt Ballou that really helped to ground their sound.  Oathbreaker were of interest; they were poised for good things.

And I know that Rheia is a “good thing,” with songs now frequently stretching over the five minute mark and singer Caro Tanghe alternating her blazing screams with floaty vocals; the thrash mutated into death metal stomps and, along with those changeups in vocals, shifting into rather shimmery, noisy rock, befitting this time’s goaround with producer Jack Shirley at the boards.

…However, I guess these exact good things aren’t what I wanted.  The group’s slide into more accessibly rocking moments (which could be like mid-90s alternative grunge) and Tanghe’s new penchant for singing versus variations on shouting just doesn’t do much for me, and without Ballou’s low-end heavy production – Shirley does a more wall of sound approach – it’s not really grabbing in a general sense.  The juxtaposition of these moments to the barrage of thrash is pretty great, and we do get some fantastic songs as a result, but even these have sudden drops in to more arty moments which just kill the momentum.  It’s Oathbreaker as more of a concept than a band; answering the question of “how can we change our sound?” without necessarily arriving at it organically via the songwriting.

Tanghe’s lyrics – though pretty centrally focused on love and loss – are powerful throughout, and although I don’t think the group is best served by Shirley’s production, he allows for a sort of immediacy to things that makes it sound raw, but by the same token, the group has never had the most unique arrangements, and this just brings that to the fore.  So as Oathbreaker have tried to mix things up, “expanding” the concept of metal, and have gotten praise for doing so, they’ve also scrubbed some of the urgency and intensity from their music, ironically making it sound less notable as a result.