Belgian post-metal expansionists Oathbreaker have been twisting the wrist of blackened, avant-garde metal since 2011’s Maelstrom, but have found themselves breaking the bones of the genre with what could be considered the band’s haunting, line-blurring masterpiece, 2016’s Rheia: a glacially vulnerable, boundary dissolving record that is as violently naked as it is elegantly crushing. With its multi-dimensional exploration of contrasts, the album has pushed the boundaries of what metal can be, and the same can be said for the band’s shape-shifting live performance which, although lacking in gimmicks and decorative distraction, reaches in and instils pure terror.

Sweeping on stage, flanked by blank, black, broken walls, the mesmeric Caro Tanghe shields herself with a haxan-cloak of hair, leaving her face cocooned and her presence swallowing as she begins to wander through spoken-word thorns against deadening silence. Slow-crawl memory ivies sombre Trojan Horse ’10:56’, the opener to wide-view emotional-fuck ‘Rheia’, as Tanghe contorts and convulses and clings to nothing – pulling the song’s ugly portrait from the air around her as she sings of skulls merging with cobblestone. The covert, 2-minute animal inspires its own kind of petrified state.

Swelling waves of atmosphere wrap themselves around limbs and leave the audience motionless, until the belly of the wooden foal breaks and the set-opener bleeds into fever-dream hysteria. From inside, broken glass and wire fall into the pit that ’10:56’s sibling ‘Second Son of R’ is opening beneath, and tentatively, the sold-out audience of The Star and Garter follow the wreckage down the rabbit hole – finding themselves spiraling downwards into a world of childhood horror and visceral introspection – tangled in the branches of Oathbreaker’s phantom havoc.

‘Being Able to Feel Nothing’ sees a hate-soaked siren in the eye of a volatile storm as Tanghe screams from beneath the waves of a starving beast hidden inside her chest, where ‘Immortals’ is carried by calls of being turned to stone. Respite may commonly be gifted by lulls in chaos, but Oathbreaker manage to carve deeper cuts in the skin with the negative-space and sonic-expanse found in-between the madness. Subdued sound collage acts as a sprawling incantation running constant during the set, bridging one destructive narrative to the next, and when cymbals choke and the room returns to near-peace, you are pulled in further.

Twin-headed creature ‘Where I Live/Where I Leave’ builds and breathes and consumes, highlighting the band’s confident control of ethereal pressure, where set-closer ‘Glimpse of the Unseen’ acts as salt in the crawling wounds of the evening; an unforgiving victory-lap, celebrating the conquering of poltergeist-memory and demonic possession. “Awareness could be yours,” shrieks Tanghe on the Maelstrom cut, and through self-imposed expulsion, Oathbreaker achieve nirvana.

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James Musker

Music Journalism student and lover of all things sensory and cosmic.