Looking Into The Abyss: An Interview With Oathbreaker

by | Aug 18, 2014 | MUSIC

Belgium is likely not the first place that one thinks of when it comes to origin points for heavy music, but Oathbreaker, from Ghent, Belgium, put out one of the most under-recognized and freshest-sounding releases in terms of hardcore and metal last year in the form of Eros|Anteros.

Belgium is likely not the first place that one thinks of when it comes to origin points for heavy music, but Oathbreaker, from Ghent, Belgium, put out one of the most under-recognized and freshest-sounding releases in terms of hardcore and metal last year in the form of Eros|Anteros. Their fluid fusion of black metal, hardcore, and to some extent, post-metal, provides the listener with a beautiful fusion of sonic vitriol and soul-churning emotion. I sat down with singer Caro and drummer Ivo before their show at Strange Matter recently, to discuss being a Belgian band marketed to American audiences, how they might have broken up had they not gotten signed, and the bizarro worlds of American and Belgian brewing culture.

So how many times have you guys been in the U.S., touring?

Caro: Touring, twice. It’s the third time that we’re here, because we recorded with Kurt at God City in Salem, for about ten days I guess. This is the second time that we’ve toured here.

How has it been in the past, and how it’s been on this tour?

Caro: This tour has been really good so far. We’ve done some cool shows. Deathwish Fest, for example, in Boston.

Yeah, I was going to ask about that. How was that? Did you meet a lot of bands on the Deathwish roster?

Caro: I think we already met a lot of the guys on that are on Deathwish of course when we toured Europe, or we played with them. But yeah, it was awesome to be a part of the fest, being sold out for two days, hanging around, playing in between other really fucking good bands that we’ve been listening to for a long time, so it was really cool.

Is it kind of a big family vibe on Deathwish?

Ivo: I feel it is, yeah. It’s probably the biggest cliché to put it like that, but it does feel like that, because Jake and his wife welcome us really as friends, and Tre and all the guys at the label. It’s one thing to work together and do stuff together and try to make something happen, and it’s another thing to feel really welcome, even by many of the other bands. I would say it’s a family. That’s definitely not an overstatement.

Caro: Especially, it’s not that easy as a Belgian band to come here and feel, I don’t know, appreciated. It’s not that obvious, that’s what I mean. Since the first we came here, we’ve always been very welcome with everyone in Deathwish, with Jake especially, because we run a lot of things through him. He’s the one we have the most contact with in Deathwish.

Ivo: It’s been great actually. Like Caro said, you got to see that at Deathwish Fest. Most of those guys in those bands have known each other for like ten plus years, and they’ve played together in other bands, and we’re like the foreign guys. Yeah, so, it’s nice to feel at home in a way; feel at home in Boston. It’s pretty special. I mean, it’s nice to be appreciated so far from where you live, where you originated.

Are there any particular bands you’ve become close with aside from Cult Leader, or discovered through Deathwish?

Ivo: When Converge passes through Europe every time, it’s cool to see them again.

Caro: It’s just a band that you can watch over and over again.

Ivo: It’s cool to see Kurt, to see Nate, and all those guys again. The level that Converge puts up every night…

Caro: It’s insane. They’re a fucking machine.

Ivo: I was super happy, on Deathwish Fest, to have the chance to see Shipwreck A.D. again, because that band was around like ten years ago. They did a one-year European tour, then they didn’t do anything, so it was cool to see those guys.

Caro: I only got to see them once in Europe. I was pretty happy to see Trap Them as well. It was the first time I saw them, for two nights in a row, so that was great. I really loved it.

Ivo: And Blacklisted, of course. I saw today that they finished recording a new album. I’m super excited to hear it, because the last one, No One Deserves to be Here More Than Me, is like… Blacklisted have a way of doing things, in a way that keeps it interesting, and they’re not afraid to try new stuff, and always push themselves, and that’s what I appreciate a lot about those guys, and they’re super nice as well.

Caro: I was super happy to see Self Defense Family as well. That was the first time I saw them. Although they only played three songs, it was right on. Like, really, really good.

Photo by Morgan Sinclair

Those guys are really interesting. I’ve honestly not heard quite a lot of bands that sound like Self Defense Family. So, a couple of questions about Eros|Anteros. Why the maypole on the cover? Does that have anything to with album thematically?

Ivo: I think it has to do with the entire album.

Caro: The entire concept of the album.

Ivo: …and where we were, at that point in time, as a band, and also in our personal lives. Y’know, the maypole is kind of a symbol of change, of going from one season to another. That’s kind of what it was to us, and you’ll find it in the lyrics as well. First of all, most of us were definitely going through changes in our personal lives, while writing the album, so we felt like we… You can try, but you can never deny what’s happening in your personal life, and you take it with you into the music.

Caro: That’s the beauty of the music. I mean, if you can leave something behind, that has you in it… That’s what we tried to do.

Ivo: We also tried musically, we tried to evolve, and dip our toes in new musical sounds and stuff. It all kind of ties together I guess… I feel.

Caro: The maypole is basically the best symbol to describe this album for us.

And it’s familiar to you guys as well.

Ivo: Yeah, well, it’s somewhere rooted in our culture. We feel like trying to take stuff from what we know. There’d be no use in us using symbols or ideas from other cultures, because Europe has got plenty to draw from.

Caro: What made it special, also, is the maypole that’s on the record is actually one we built ourselves.

Yeah, I was going to say, it doesn’t look super ornamental. It has kind of a rugged look to it.

Caro: Mhm. We made it in a field somewhere near our hometown, somewhere in the woods. We basically found a huge tree and dragged it along, on the open fields, painted it with our bare hands, put the flags on it, and put it up. There was a lot of input of ourselves into constructing that thing, which makes it more personal.

Ivo: We invested a lot of ourselves in the music, in the lyrics, in the layout, and that way, it all ties together. That’s what we always try to do, try to make it all work together, because we feel that makes it… I think it helps to create something that’s more than just the sum of all things.

I definitely felt like the most recent album was very cohesive, it flowed very, very well. Whereas Maelstrom definitely had a flow to it, but I would say the pacing was a bit more chaotic, Eros|Anteros has this really specific flow to it.

Caro: I think what you described is basically how we wrote those two albums. Whereas Maelstrom is more a compilation of songs we had written over a really long period of time, almost three years. I think you feel that when you listen to the record. We tried to write good songs, but it doesn’t make a good… I mean, it does make a good album, I think, but it doesn’t make a cohesive idea, a concept of an album. It’s more like a compilation of songs. With Eros, we saw it more as a whole, that has a certain dynamic.

Ivo: Maelstrom came from separate pieces that we puzzled together, once we started recording, and we filled in the gaps that we felt needed to be filled in. Whereas Eros, as Caro said, started from the bigger idea, and that’s what made it more cohesive. Because there was the same starting point, the same idea, for the entire album. That’s what makes it more cohesive than Maelstrom. I think we’re all quite happy about that evolution, because it’s good for us as musicians, as people playing together, that we evolve and try to improve ourselves.

Absolutely. From what I read, Maelstrom was sort of about this descent into negativity, this abyss. So does Eros|Anteros serve as any sort of emotional follow-up, or is it far removed from that?

Ivo: It wasn’t meant to be, but it is, I guess.

Caro: When I write lyrics, I always pull from something I know, so it is kind of a reflection of how our lives were at that time. So, as Maelstrom was a reflection of the three-year period we wrote that record in, Eros|Anteros is the same thing. So, it is a follow-up, so that’s where the passage, the change in our lives went on. So, emotionally it’s definitely a follow-up. It just pulls from another angle, because we were in a different period in our lives.

Ivo: You can easily put the two records together and see that as kind of the lifeline of what we went through. It reflects the band, and I think it’s great that we were able to put that into music, into a record.

I think two of my favorite songs on Eros were “As I Look Into The Abyss” and “The Abyss Looks Into Me.” Partially because they fit so well in the middle of the album. Do those two halves tie into the opposing halves referenced in the album title?

Caro: Definitely. That was the thing we tried to do with those two songs. The first part of the two songs would illustrate chaos, whereas the second part pulls from more of a calm, more… I don’t know how to describe this.

Ivo: More focused.

Caro: More focused, than chaos.

Ivo: The first part is chaos, as we put into music, whereas the other one is the same emotion, but one a more focused level. It’s still there, and it’s still as real as the first part, but in another way.

Caro: I think also lyric-wise, the first part goes more into the vibe of Maelstrom, going all the way down. The second part is kind of a rebirth. If you read the lyrics, there’s a lot of stuff about phoenixes, that describes what a rebirth is. That’s kind of how we felt when we wrote that song. It’s kind of the whole theme of the record combined in that one song, where you have all of the new [things] we tried musically and vocally. That song kind of wraps up the record to me, and to all of us I guess.

Photo by Stefaan Temmerman

I definitely noticed a black metal influence on Maelstrom, but it wasn’t in every song, it wasn’t as present as on the new record. On Eros|Anteros, there’s this very natural mix of hardcore and black metal. Was that a conscious decision?

Ivo: We all listen to all different kinds of music, from the softest to the harshest music. It was just kind of how it flowed. It wasn’t conscious. If there was one musical conscious decision we made with the new album, it was to play more with dynamics than on previous records. Because you know, if you put something soft next to something louder, the loud gets louder, and the soft gets softer. That’s the idea of dynamics, and that’s how you get the flow in an album. So that was definitely something we aimed to do, but the black metal influences, and the musical influence, I guess that’s just how it ended up.

Caro: Maelstrom was our first record. We weren’t sure where to go yet. We were trying stuff. I mean, we liked it, for that time, but it wasn’t all we could do. Whereas three years later, if we do a new record, it’s normal in that period of time to evolve. We all evolved, we listened to new music, and we discovered new stuff.

Ivo: We’re less confined right now, to write new music, than we were with Maelstrom. We write in a more free way. Maelstrom is still a record that I back hard, but, as you evolve as a musician, you learn to take away the borders in your mind.

Caro: We dared to do more, that’s mainly the thing. When we saw Maelstrom was doing well, which we didn’t really think it would… When we recorded the album, we weren’t signed yet, so we basically recorded it ourselves, paid for everything ourselves. We weren’t sure what we were going to do with it, we had no idea if someone would want to put it out or not. We had no clue basically. When that worked out well, getting signed to Deathwish, we felt more confident to try new stuff on Eros|Anteros.

Ivo: I mean Maelstrom was really more than recording an album. It was more making sure that we had the registration of what we had done in previous years. At that point in time, it really was. Not in the way that we half-assed it or something, but more in the sense that the band was… we were kind of doing stuff, but it was kind of the last attempt to make something happen. If that recording would have fallen flat, this band probably wouldn’t have existed. I mean, if Deathwish hadn’t contacted us, and said “Hey, we want to release this,” we probably wouldn’t be around any more. To hark back to Maelstrom and the descent into negativity, well, there you have it.

That’s interesting that you say that your musical boundaries were broken down, because if anything, Eros|Anteros feels a lot more focused.

Ivo: Well, focused as musicians, but I think it’s harder to point out what it exactly is. The more we exist, and the more people ask “What kind of music do you play?,” the harder it gets for me to aptly explain what we are doing.

Caro: It’s hard because we fall in between…

It’s rock music.

Caro: Yeah, it’s just hard music, man.

Ivo: It’s loud and sometimes it’s not loud, and that’s kinda how it goes.

Photo by Stefaan Temmerman

There’s a lot of crossover between the American craft brewing scene and heavy bands. A band from Richmond, Windhand, has an IPA named after them. Pig Destroyer and Municipal Waste have both collaborated with breweries. Being from one of the biggest countries for beer in the world…

Ivo: The best, you want to say.

Yes. What’s your perspective on that?

Caro: It’s very different in Belgium. The breweries come more from more of a… monk perspective.

Ivo: Abbeys and stuff like that. We don’t hang around with monks that much. I think it’s cool though. I mean, why not? On a purely factual level, for bands in this day and age, it’s harder anyway to make your band happen, so you gotta be more creative in how you bring yourself to the audience. So I think it’s cool. It probably won’t happen for us, because Lennart doesn’t drink, and I hardly drink, so that would be kind of weird.

Caro: I never drink beer.

Ivo: Why not? That’s my general… I have no interest in doing it myself, or linking Oathbreaker… like Oathbreaker beer, or Oathbreaker brandy, or whatever, or an Oathbreaker cocktail.

Caro: Oathbreaker whiskey… that would be a whole different idea. I’m just kidding.

The guy from Tombs [Mike Hill] has his own coffee brand now.

Ivo: Coffee could work! That could work. That’s an idea. I’ll play around with that. I would like my own roast. I have an appreciation for the craft and the tradition [of Belgian beer]. I have a mental appreciation. It’s definitely part of the Belgian culture. I’m glad it’s there.

Caro: It’s more part of the Belgian export, than it is of the culture. There’s a lot more to Belgian culture than what we export. Everyone we’ve talked to that we didn’t know here would say three things related to Belgium: waffles, chocolate, and beer. Which makes complete sense.

Ivo: I’d rather have that than misery, suppression, and… something else. If you live somewhere, you’re never quite aware of how people perceive your country or the specific qualities of the place where you live. I don’t get up every morning like “Yeah! Belgium has the greatest beer in the world!” You’re not aware of it.

It’s because you already know that.

Ivo: Well, because other people tell us so.

During my conversation with Caro and Ivo, local one-man industrial metal act R-Complex started sound checking. The man performing, Peter Rozsa, also performs in Prisoner, who had to drop off of the show due to their singer experiencing a back injury. R-Complex filled the slot well, with a mix of Godflesh-style repetitive beats and some filthily distorted synths, occasionally lapsing into a drone part, with Rozsa’s compellingly fierce, deep yells over top. Every so often, Rozsa dipped down to the floor and manipulated some drum machine parts by hand, still playing keyboard with one hand, which was impressive. After R-Complex, another local act, Devil’s Hand, played a fun, energetic set. Their singer announced that this would be the last time that the audience would see them for a while. A shame, as their bluesy take on hardcore was very entertaining. Their set even included a song that, according to the singer, is about bees being wiped out.

The first of the two touring acts, Cult Leader, set up next, positioning a floodlight behind their drummer, and having the house lights turned off, granting them a stark visual presence. The band rolled through songs from their sole release thus far, Nothing For Us Here; set highlights including dramatic EP closer “Driftwood” and the oddly catchy “Mongrel.” The band is made up of four former members of chaotic hardcore act Gaza, and they put out a similarly massive amount of sound, with both bassist and guitarist utilizing two massive speaker cabinets, the drummer’s limbs flying through fills and blast beats, and the vocalist unleashing unearthly, low growls.

After the focused cacophony of Cult Leader, the house lights came back up for Oathbreaker, who opened with the intro track, “Beeltenis” (effigy, or portrait in Dutch), to their most recent record, Eros|Anteros, subsequently launching into the black metal assault of “No Rest For The Weary.” The band gracefully navigated their way through a set mostly made up of cuts from that most recent album, such as mid-album dirge “The Abyss Looks Into Me.” Sadly, Caro’s hushed, haunting vocals utilized in that song were nearly inaudible during the heavier parts. However, she made up for that absence, projecting her scathing screams over the band’s precise and skillful aural menace for the remainder of the set, despite the uncooperative mic stand.

The crowd was mostly made up of casual head-nodders, with a few occasionally breaking into spasmodic solo dance sessions. It seemed as if most attendees were just there to quietly appreciate the beauty and wreckage unrelentingly being cast down from the stage. I was certainly a member of that contingent, and I was more than happy to sip my beer, bang my head, and simply feel the noise.

Marilyn Drew Necci

Marilyn Drew Necci

Former GayRVA editor-in-chief, RVA Magazine editor for print and web. Anxiety expert, proud trans woman, happily married.

more in music

The Only Richmond Juneteenth Bash You Need to Be At

This June 19, 2024, in observation of Juneteenth 2024, Cassidy Snider brings together and curates her third annual celebration concert. Sharing the stage with a wide range of Richmond music artists of color each bringing diverse musical styles from Songwriters, MC’s,...

Shagg Carpet: New Villains of Richmond Post Punk

Stopping in before a pre-tour practice, I talked with Richmond hotshots Shagg Carpet. The group formed in the sunny college days of 2022 when high school friends Laurel (guitar), Austyn (keys), and Brett (drums) saw Rook (vocals and mysterious masked figure) lounging...

Photos from the sold out Dale Watson show at Get Tight Lounge

Last week, Get Tight Lounge in Richmond was packed for a sold-out show featuring none other than Dale Watson, the torchbearer of classic honky-tonk. The atmosphere was electric, and the crowd was buzzing as photographer Ben Lahoussine captured an unforgettable...

Finding My Way to Tommy Stinson and Peter Jesperson

As any exciting story begins, it was a Monday night and my plans had just been canceled. With the news of my new availability, I decided to take up a friend on an offer. The scene takes me to a familiar spot, a beautiful home across the river with a small lit sign...

Wave That Flag! Richmond’s Pride 2024 Events Are Here to Slay

We are a little late on this but Virginia Pride has unveiled the schedule for its annual "Endless Summer of Pride" campaign, a celebration of the Richmond region's LGBTQ community. The campaign kicked off on May 31 with a pride flag-raising ceremony at City Hall,...