After fulfilling their promise on stunning third album Rheia, Belgian underground innovators Oathbreaker are going on hiatus. Why are they stopping now, when their journey’s only just begun?
After breaking through with Rheia, are the Belgian hardcore crew about to throw their success away? Singer Caro Tanghe explains it all.
“There are nights I have to scrape myself off the floor” TO URING Rheia HAS TAKEN AN EMOTIONAL TOLL
ON SINGER CARO TANGHE
The voice on the other end of the line is haunting and delicate, just as it is on record. When Oathbreaker singer Caro Tanghe speaks, she does so slowly and wistfully, chewing every syllable before it gracefully floats from her mouth – until, that is, we ask her if she feels intimidated by writing a follow-up to the band’s latest album, Rheia.
“Yes! It’s very intimidating,” she shoots back, before settling back into her usual, more laconic pace. “We made a record that I never thought we’d be able to make. But I believe we have something else in us. Maybe we never make another record like Rheia again, but we can still make something beautiful, inspiring...”
She trails off for a second, before adding: “But I don’t know what that is.”
There’s a very good chance that, unless you are an aficionado of Europe’s underground hardcore scene, the name Oathbreaker would not have meant anything to you this time last year. Formed just under a decade ago in Flanders, Belgium, the band showed enough promise in their early years to ink a deal with Jacob Bannon’s Deathwish label and release two decent blackened hardcore albums. But despite Caro telling us his stamp of approval was an incredible coup, Oathbreaker lacked the confidence to break from the hardcore scene’s many tropes.
“Those albums are good for what they are,” she tells us, “but we were just doing what we thought we had to do, rather than what we really felt. It’s not a bad thing, but we lacked true confidence – we were always defending the boundaries of what we did.”
With thousands of exciting heavy bands vying for your attention in the modern era, it seemed Oathbreaker were destined to join the ranks of metal’s many nearly men. No one, seemingly even the band themselves, truly expected anything out of the ordinary from them.
But then Rheia happened.
Last September, underground circles began making noises about the arrival of a special record. Those early murmurs swelled to a crescendo via word of mouth, and now Rheia is already rightly regarded as one of the most unique, moving, genre-defining records of the millennium. A record that cohesively weaved together folk, black metal, punk rock, ethereal noise and raw, unrestrained, emotion.
At the epicentre of it was Caro’s classically trained voice. As equal parts soaring and
sublime as it was anguished, her astonishing delivery documented a previously untapped well of repressed pain, triggered, as she tells us, by a conversation with guitarist Gilles Demolder around the time of her grandmother’s death from cancer.
“I was in a really low point in life,” she says. “I felt really depressed; I didn’t know I was depressed, but I was tired and felt disconnected from working. But I didn’t want to give up; I was fighting myself, basically. My past relationships were all bullshit and I didn’t have contact with my parents anymore. It was a really unstable time for me.”
Gilles, her bandmate and friend of more than 15 years, encouraged Caro to write down her feelings as he composed music on his acoustic guitar.
“I wrote all of the lyrics from childhood memories,” she continues. “There are really emotional songs about past relationships, but most of it came from a very self-reflective place. I wanted to write about what I know about myself, but also what people don’t know about me and what I didn’t realise about myself. I tried to dig really deep.”
It’s from this seed that Rheia grew, and, with the critical and commercial success that Oathbreaker are currently enjoying, it would be easy to end the story there – to paint the picture of a band and a woman who have succeeded despite adversity and are now enjoying the fruits of their labour. But this is no fairytale. Soon Oathbreaker were to tour this most personal of records, and the demons on Rheia had to be relived every night.
“We’re very lucky to have been able to do this,” Caro says, “but there are some nights where I literally have to scrape myself up off of the floor and do what I have to do. Because the emotional content of this record is so real to me. Most of the time it’s very exhausting.”
Exhausting to the point where Caro is honest enough to tell us that there are times, to her obvious shame, when she has tried to switch off from engaging with the music she is playing. “There are some nights where I can feel everything,” she says, her voice cracking. “You feel every word you are saying, but there are days where routine takes over… it becomes so unimportant because you do it every day.
Just a different crowd in a different city. Those nights I feel terrible; it makes it feel like those things I wrote about aren’t real. I feel like a robot and I can’t even believe a crowd can care about what we’re doing. But those other days when I do feel those things, it hurts so bad, but you actually feel like you’re alive.
So, I have to seek that out, or there is no point us being up there. I want it to feel real, not superficial.”
After a year of struggling with this dynamic, it’s no wonder that touring life has taken its toll on Oathbreaker. The band recently posted on their Facebook page that, after an upcoming run of UK dates, they will be taking 2018 off, with no definite promise of a return.
“It’s something that we needed to do,” sighs Caro. “It’s been very intense. On a personal level we’ve all known each other for so long, but no one can prepare you for being in such a small space together for so long. For example, me and Gilles were together and we broke up, and it’s been really tough dealing with that. We still have to be in a van together. The vibe in the band has to be good. We need to go away and have that space and then maybe come back… I don’t know, I can’t say at the moment. I’m really happy we can do those UK shows in December, and we might try writing a new record, but I can’t say for sure.”
Caro is quick to point out that the individuals in Oathbreaker will still be active. With members of Amenra in their ranks, the musicians that created the sonic canvas for Rheia will still be bringing new music to the world.
“We all have other bands and side-projects to keep us going,” she says, before hesitantly adding, “Well, except me… I may have a new project, but it’s still so early that it really isn’t worth me talking about it yet.”
Instead, Caro will spend the next couple of months in the United States, enjoying life. This afternoon she walked her boyfriend’s dog and acquired last-minute
NASCAR tickets, and tells us she looks forward to having time where she’s “just being normal”. But the spectre of Rheia still looms large over her life, prompting us to revisit the question we began with: is it just too daunting to consider making a successor to their current album?
“There are so many other amazing things I believe we could achieve,” she says. “Maybe by using electronic music or being really quiet and melodic… but it’s too early to say right now. We might not ever even try… and that’s fine.”
Those UK shows may be just another chapter in the Oathbreaker story, or they may well be the full stop. Either way, you owe it to yourself to experience them.
RHEIA IS OUT NOW VIA DEATHWISH. OATHBREAKER PLAY LO NDO N’S SCALA ON DECEMBER 13
“WE MIGHT NEVER TRY TO MAKE A FOLLOW-UP TO RHEIA”
BURNED OUT AND INTIMIDATED BY THE IDEA, OATHBREAKER ARE TAKING TIME OFF
Oathbreaker (left to right): Gilles Demolder, Caro Tanghe, Lennart Bossu, Wim Coppers