Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 15/4
author AP date 15/12/16 venue Stengade, Copenhagen, DEN
That Oathbreaker has established itself as a big deal in all things ‘post-‘ of late is made glaring by not just the size, but also the composition of the crowd tonight, with almost every notable Danish practitioner of the style represented amongst the attendance. Thanks to an eclectic line-up featuring an ambient act (Wife, whom we choose not to review as the genre seems a little out of our usual sphere of coverage), an experimental hardcore punk outfit, as well as a frontrunner of the much hyped ‘blackgaze’ movement, the turnout is better than on most week nights and has a diverse tinge to it, with most people likely in for at least one first-time experience. But enough rambling — how did the two main acts actually fare?
Okkultokrati has little in common with the evening’s headliner, but this is explained by the fact that the Norwegian cult sensation was added to the bill rather opportunistically — they happened to be available for a Copenhagen show on the same date, so why not swat two flies at once? The band’s style is rather more stripped down: an eccentric take on hardcore punk infused with keyboard, and with a special affinity for the d-beat. Indeed, on the basis of the setlist picks tonight, Okkultokrati’s forte seems to be playing this very traditional style of punk with great intensity, relying heavily on their showmanship to leave a lasting impression. The session bassist, for instance, (no longer Årabrot’s Kjetil Nernes, it seems) takes full advantage of drummer ‘Verminscum’’s simplistic groove with a constant flurry of stomps, twists, swings and brandishes to justify the high presence he has been allowed in the mix, whilst vocalist Henning ‘Black Qvisling’ Wisth uses his towering frame to loom over the crowd like a menace following each of his frequent surges toward and onto the centre monitors.
Sadly, the heavily emphasised low end combined with the bassist’s crazed antics is hostile toward the swathes of keyboard laid down by former guitarist Pål ‘BlackRace’ Bredrup — the man is not just inaudible, but also invisible for large portions of the set. Guitarist Boris ‘Leaf’ Lifschutz suffers a similar fate in the verses, but to his credit, the intermittent eruptions of wah-wah do come across loud and clear, and even when he has trouble penetrating the soundwall, his pure physical energy is still captivating. Okkultokrati’s show is hard to take one’s eyes off thus, which is especially crucial if, like me, you never quite warm up to the music. “Hidden Future”, with its drawn-out, almost psychedelic outro and steadily increasing decibels is the only piece that etches itself into my memory — but on the other hand, there is so much to rave about in terms of the band’s fierce and confrontational performance.
Bands of Oathbreaker’s nature, who focus so heavily on the cinematic, tend to be a gamble when it comes to watching them live. If the sound mix is off, they risk muddling up any semblance of atmosphere, of emotion; if they fail to provide some visual aspect to the experience, you might as well listen to it through your headphones or stereo at home. In Oathbreaker’s specific case though, the question on everyone’s lips seems to be whether or not the Belgian quartet would be able to convey the misery of their music as well on stage as on record. The sound, though somewhat prejudiced toward Gilles Demolder’s bass, is balanced enough that both the intricacies and cinematic grandeur of tracks such as “Being Able to Feel Nothing” and “Where I Leave” come across satisfactorily, and it is also hard to argue with the moody colour tones of the lighting (shone exclusively from behind, of course). Indeed, the setup is atmospheric without being overtly showy, with the emphasis very much placed on painting vocalist Caro Tanghe in as elusive a light as possible. It suits the shy and girlish, yet somehow unsettling style of her singing perfectly to be shrouded in shadow, barely moving — especially when juxtaposed with her other self: the raging, despairing, tormented persona burying her face in her hands, pulling her own hair and throwing her arms in the air in defeat. The manner in which her voice conquers the room whether she is at her most fragile or her most vicious is astounding
Where Tanghe shows an evocative demeanour however, her bandmates prefer to remain in the background, statuesque and focus on building the towering monuments of sadness from which their vocalist draws her energy. As a result, Oathbreaker’s music manages to sound live more or less exactly as it does on record (albeit heavier in the rhythm department) — except that for reasons that escape me, it does not entirely consume me in the same way. Oddly, the Gent-based four-piece has trouble replicating the emotional intensity of their landmark efforts, 2013’s “Eros | Anteros” and this year’s “Rheia” in these intimate confines despite the fact that they otherwise impress. One suspects that the lack of a real emotional connection owes primarily to the shortened setlist — just as “Needles in Your Skin” has begun to send chills down your spine, “Glimpse of the Unseen” off 2011’s “Mælstrøm” is announced as the final piece, forcing an all-too premature conclusion onto a concert that was just beginning to ascend toward true grandeur. This is a shame, and one hopes that Oathbreaker might soon return for a much longer journey into the darkest of our emotions — one which might also include material off the aforementioned “Eros | Anteros” LP.
- 01. Being Able to Feel Nothing
- 02. Immortals
- 03. Where I Live
- 04. Where I Leave
- 05. Needles in Your Skin
- 06. Glimpse of the Unseen