LIVE: Oathbreaker / Svalbard @ The Underworld, London

By Glen Bushell

When Oathbreaker released the emotionally jarring ‘Rheia’ last year, nobody was prepared for the impact it would have. It showed a huge progression for the Belgian metal band, received critical acclaim across the board, and we named it as our album of the year. Even though people throw the ‘masterpiece’ tag around flippantly today, ‘Rheia’ is an album deserving of that distinction. It is a modern classic

On this horrifically cold night in London, Oathbreaker play the first night of their UK tour in support of ‘Rheia’ to a sold out crowd in the hallowed halls of The Underworld, courtesy of Nightshift Promotions. The anticipation for the tour has been building for weeks; eager ears are waiting to hear these songs brought to life.

As if the proposition of Oathbreaker wasn’t enough, Svalbard, who are one of the most exciting bands the UK has produced in recent memory, have the unenviable task of main support this evening. A lesser band would struggle in the position of Svalbard, but they play as if they were the headlining band.

Their blend of black metal and atmospheric post-rock is captivating. The dual vocals of Serena Cherry and Liam Phelan are blistering; harking back to a classic metalcore sound, shrouded by intoxicating flourishes of melodic ambience. In time, they will be filling venues like this on their own.

As the lights go down you can cut the tension with a knife, which swells when Oathbreaker finally arrive. Vocalist Caro Tanghe takes centre stage, hooded and cloaked. The room eventually falls silent as the mesmerising acapella introduction of ’10:56’ fills the room. It collapses into a hail of relentless aggression with ‘Second Son of R.’ that is note for note perfect in comparison to the studio recording. Tanghe’s vocals are enchanting in every aspect; be they viscerally screamed or soaring with beauty.

There is little respite from the intensity that Oathbreaker bring to their live show. Even the newer addition of slower paced, melodious passages to their sound in ‘Immortals’, or the haunting slow burn of ‘Where I Leave’, are heartbreaking endurance tests. It takes a special band to be able to pull off such a dichotomy of styles, but their set flows in the most cohesive manner.

By time they reach the ferocious cacophony of ‘Needles In Your Skin’, it becomes clear that the songs on ‘Rheia’ where custom made to be played live. The analog recording of the album had the raw urgency of their live show, and in the flesh the songs are given more space to breathe. They could have played the album in its entirety and nobody in the room would have minded. They do, however, go back to their first two albums and end with a dual onslaught of ‘No Rest For The Weary’, and the riff driven ‘Glimpse Of The Unseen’.

From the brief moments where Tanghe addresses the audience tonight, Oathbreaker are clearly humbled by the response to ‘Rheia’, and to have a room filled with dedicated listeners who have found solace in their art. This is just the start of the new era of Oathbreaker. While they have set the bar high for themselves and others to follow, their ascent to become one of the most important metal bands of the last few years is going to be a glorious one.