[24 September 2013]
There are still plenty of hulking hardcore bands out there delivering the scene’s ‘80s muscular punch, and dropping in all the neck-snapping breakdowns where required. The metallic hardcore banner is obviously there to collect those bands that draw from metal’s canon too, but while many bands retain hardcore’s accent in moments of clear-cut enunciation, groups frequently plunder whatever genre suits best (heavy or otherwise) to ram their message home. That’s all led to an increasingly diverse and creatively unrestrained hardcore scene over the years, with endless combinations of volatile sounds appearing.
Belgium-based band Oathbreaker makes fine use of that cross-genre coalescence to craft its merciless songs. Formed in the city of Ghent in 2008 (home to cutthroat hardcore hero Rise and Fall), Oathbreaker has quickly built up a profile with aficionados of fierce metallic hardcore, much like fellow Ghent band and Southern Lord recording artist Hessian. Oathbreaker’s first full-length for label Deathwish Inc, 2011’s Mælstrøm, was a short, sharp savage shockwave, with post-hardcore, crust punk, and icy black metal riffs all featuring. Frontwoman Caro Tanghe spat fire over all, and the result was a well-regarded chronicle of pummeling postmodern pain, all wrapped around humanity’s more enduring agonies.
Oathbreaker’s latest album, Eros|Anteros, adheres to that very same thematic blueprint. Thunderclouds gather, traumatic tales are told, and confrontational and cyclonic broadsides mirror Mælstrøm‘s battering causticity, such as on “Condor Tongue”, “No Rest for the Weary”, and “Nomads”. The abrasively grinding “Agartha” and the more anthemic “Upheaval” come with plenty of ferocious riffing and nail-gun percussion too—and once again Tanghe furiously hawks her tirades on those tracks.
Of course, that’s all to be expected. No one doubted that Eros|Anteros would be a wrathful release, or that its vicious punk rock bite would contain the acidic venom of black metal and the stench of crustier sludge. However, as enjoyable as the lacerating, more straight-ahead tracks on Eros|Anteros are, ultimately, they’re not what makes the album such an impressive release.
Oathbreaker injects a more hypothermic temper into the blackened crust of many of the tracks, with an ice-cold, more melodic lacquer being the result. The band hasn’t chosen to moderate its approach per se on Eros|Anteros, but it has decided to modify it. That’s evidenced immediately on opener “Beeltenis”, where Tanghe whispers sinisterly through the frosty mist of a dissonant post-hardcore squall, and “Offer Aan De Leegte” rips open a freezing cold Sabbathian void. Elsewhere, the tempestuous garage punk of “As I Look into the Abyss” prefaces “The Abyss Looks into Me”—which, in turn, greets you with an indie trill that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Pixies LP. “The Abyss Looks into Me” morphs into an ear-piercing dirge till halfway through, when the clamor falls away for an isolated guitar line to weave around angelic and hellish vocals. It all ramps back up, with the subtle ambience being thoroughly annihilated, and that flourish of more dynamic sophistication from Oathbreaker is there on “Clair Obscur” too. The 11-minute song drifts on a post-metal-meets-shoegaze current to tug at the heartstrings, finishing the album in a warmer emotional climate.
Eros|Anteros is an album you’ll return to because of those mercurial shadings. It decelerates where needs be—grinding along with chest-crushing weight and a bleak, post-punk-worthy chill—only to accelerate into the frenzy and furor of more inimical passages.
Oathbreaker’s decision to exhibit more range isn’t a unique artistic statement in metallic hardcore, but it’s one that many bands of its ilk ignore in favour of “stamping on a human face, forever”. Aggression has its place, of course, and unrestrained hostility certainly gets a point across in no uncertain manner. However, while there’s plenty of chaotic energy to be found on Eros|Anteros, it’s the juxtaposition of darkness and light, and the range of that energy, that’s most rewarding.
There are glimpses of tenderness and the ethereal when Tanghe’s vocals become more delicate, spine-chilling passages of cleaner and sharper guitars, and, of course, plenty of punishing outbursts of vicious hardcore. All of which means that Eros|Anteros doesn’t just satisfy those seeking outright aggressiveness, but sates the hunger on a number of other, more nuanced, levels too. It’s worth keeping in mind that Eros|Anteros is only Oathbreaker’s sophomore release, and the creative drive, passion, and potential the band has exhibited here shows enormous promise for its future.