The patience and soul searching that went into the creation of Rheia is illuminated through it’s sound. Oathbreaker’s third full length is the most expansive release from the Belgian black metallers, maybe even the most sonically extensive record some might hear all year. The highlights from the record include parts infused with head splitting instrumentals and ear piercing vocal deliveries as well as times where Oathbreaker take moments of rest to find tranquility — if it can be called that on this emotionally rotten record. The lyrical content involves vocalist Caro Tanghe burning through old memories of anger, despair and other forms of vehement discontent that lend to Rheia‘s crushing atmosphere.
Songs extend anywhere from mystical calms (10:56, Stay Here / Accroche-Moi) to astounding black metal epics (Immortals, Needles In Your Skin) and everywhere in between. As the record ascends in jaw dropping intensity on the first half, the spiral down is more affectionate, more intimate in atmosphere and sound. The haunting opening of Tanghe’s trembling vocals on “10:56” is blown to bits from the force punched through “Second Son Of R.” This latter track grabs a hold of the horrors of Tanghe’s childhood and transforms them into a detonation of searing guitars, battering drums and tortured shrieks. The imagery found within the lyrics, “raised in between doll shaped smoke/insects in every corner of our rotten house/I hid in the walls of my room/tasting clean air through a window crack,” really magnifies the horror and imagines it even more great with the accompanying sonic portrait.Within all of the chaos, Tanghe finds ways to sing over the dark motifs, weaving more than just needles into the skin; rather entangling her emotions into a cathartic explosion. The song’s final moments see Tanghe and company soar with an introspective progression before the last 40 seconds find the band in an emotional massacre. It’s possibly the most intense piece of music I have heard all year, coming straight from the imagination of pure terror but in the most necessary way possible.
As per usual with Black Metal releases, songs can tend to become lengthy. Quite a few of the tracks reach seven minutes or longer, riding through frantic emotions to almost deathly serenity. “Being Able To Feel Nothing” holds a journey throughout its orchestration, starting very much in a fury of apathy to a sunken depression of emptiness to the sudden realization that there is nothing left to feel anyways. The lyrics are striking glances of familiar, hellbent grief.
The record’s final tracks take the sorrow and find different ways to embody that with their sound. “I’m Sorry This Is” is thick with atmospheric pulses, with recordings of a conversation and background scenes (possibly at a playground?) filling the void left by the ambience. “Where I Live” continues with a warm synthesizer opening the tune, but morphs into a full bodied track with walls of guitars, Tanghe’s ominous vocal transformations and a unified roar o black metal before retreating to the synth to lead into “Where I Leave.” This and the closing track “Begeerte” offer together over 15 minutes of a restrained band, it would be hard to even convince me they could ever perform such blistering tracks in the first half of the record.
The depth of Rheia really offers more than surface level black metal. This record is the masterpiece to Oathbreaker, a dichotic melody infused with gripping instrumentals of suffering and subtle hits at peace.