For Oathbreaker, 2016 was an astonishing year. Already an established name in a reasonably underground scene, last year saw their visibility and recognition catapulted to new heights and it’s all because of «Rheia». Arguably their best record so far, it certainly stands as their most important one, and was appropriately presented live in a relentlessly string of shows in both Europe and the US.
Amidst the second part of their European tour with James Kelly’s WIFE was a double date in Portugal. First they stopped in Lisbon for a performance at Musicbox. The venue’s tall stone archway surrounding the stage proved to be an impressive and fitting setting for their performance, which together with a powerful sound made for a strong showing. Porto’s Cave 45 followed and so did a drastic aesthetic shift. In the often foggy basement, the stage is lower and thus, instead of towering above us, Oathbreaker regain their humanity in the audience’s eye. A contrast befitting the characteristics of the two cities and more importantly, a contrast which allowed different facets of the band to be highlighted in each night.
As the rain poured down outside, MusicBox steadily became packed as WIFE pushed the building’s low end to levels you don’t often witness in these kind of nights. The start-stop swing of «Standard Nature» was in full display with striking sound clarity. Kelly’s songwriting might not yet be at the same level in the electronic world as it was with black metal, but what is lacking in that department is more than made up by sheer textural excellence. A considerable leap seems to have occurred since Amplifest 2015 in that regard, as well as with the interplay between light and sound, with a neatly designed set-up reacting to the music and setting up the brightening of beams from underneath Kelly, forcefully drawing one’s attention to the Irish musician.
Hours after the Porto show, Oathbreaker guitarist Gilles Demolder remarked how he thought having WIFE play before them made for the perfect transition towards their show. Immersion through cerebral electronics, break, silence, the frailty of Tanghee’s voice echoing underneath the stone arch in “10:56”, and finally, the visceral lashing out on the senses that is “Second Son Of Ra”, a maelstrom of fury centred around the frontwoman. Even more effective as a set opener than it is in the album.
Unsurprisingly, the set mostly revolved around material from «Rheia». The record, whilst retaining a kernel of the blackened post hardcore which got the Belgium collective there, infuses their sound with a more grandiose sense of melancholic flair. In Lisbon, it was this guitar driven aspect to be enhanced whereas Cave 45’s sound and setting made for a bleaker experience, as if made to show that the hardcore side wasn’t that far underneath all those layered arrangements. There, the beats felt stronger, the general texture murkier but Tanghee’s voice more piercing when cleanly sung, emerging from the fog with remarkable clarity.
Their past was also revisited, with a particular highlight of both nights being set closer “Glimpse Of The Unseen”. Though one would perhaps expect it to have a bigger impact in Porto, it was in Lisbon this happened. All things considered, it’s higher riff reliance felt like more of a contrast to the preceding hour there, culminating the night as a moment of fiery eruption whilst on the following night it ended up working as a smoother apex.
It goes to show Oathbreaker‘s current popularity, that they managed to pack two straight venues mere months after playing Amplifest. While with WIFE‘s creative journey still seems to be at the early stages, the Belgium collective has found their space and kicked pretty much every door around it. Where they go next is anyone’s guess, but it surely sounds like an intriguing prospect.
All pictures taken at Music Box by Lais Pereira, all drawings made live at Cave 45 by Ricardo Nogueira Fernandes