Khemmis / Oathbreaker – The Roxy; Los Angeles, CA
As Psycho Las Vegas approaches, it’s time to start stretching my eardrums for the inevitable onslaught of an underground hard rock/metal festival. What better way to start my “training” than to check out Khemmis and Oathbreaker at the Roxy.
My buddy Ian, of course, turned me onto both of these bands. Khemmis when their record Absolution was released in 2015, and Oathbreaker when Rheia was released last year. The former was ranked #18 on my Top 100 of 2015, and the latter ranked #7 on last year’s list. So yes, I’ve enjoyed both acts very much since they appeared on my radar. Both will also be performing at Psycho Las Vegas this summer, so this current tour offers a sick preview of what’s to come.
Khemmis performed first last night, treating the crowd to four songs off their latest album Hunted (#28, Top 100 of 2016). Phil Pendergast’s vocals were as impressive live as they are on record, which for me is part of the allure of the band. I love the interplay between the melodic, Iron Maiden / Thin Lizzy harmonies and growling, sludgy doom metal. I used to think that “The Bereaved” (off Absolution) was the quintessential Khemmis sound, but watching them play most of Hunted had me realizing their unique sound is more fully realized on that record.
In fact, when I came home and checked what I’d written about Hunted previously, I noted that “Whereas Absolution was a collection of songs, Hunted is an actual record. The vocals soar, the tracks flow seamlessly, and the riffs are as mammoth as ever.” There might not be a song as moving as “The Bereaved” on it, but “Beyond The Door” and “Candlelight” are pretty damned good themselves. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing them again in Vegas.
01. Above The Water
02. Three Gates
03. Candlight [MP3]
I have to say, The Roxy runs a pretty tight ship. You can always count on set changes occurring swiftly and bands starting at their presumed start times. I had no idea what to expect from Oathbreaker in a live setting because I’ve never watched footage of them beyond their Audiotree session. Caro Tanghe’s stage presence is somewhere between the girl from The Ring and a hooded figure leading a ritual sacrifice. The stark, harsh strobe lights combined with the band’s intense, post-modern take on black metal made for a stunning visual/aural experience. And man, as loud as they were, Caro’s vocals still cut through it all to deliver that additional layer of pain/beauty that makes their music so good.
When I wrote about Rheia at the end of last year I said, “If there’s one element that sets Oathbreaker apart from the other metal acts on this list it’s Caro Tanghe’s vocals. She can produce a harrowing, guttural screech as effective as anyone but her wavering (at times shifting between tonal and atonal) clean singing really makes these songs shine. Musically I love that Oathbreaker aren’t afraid to take pause or shift away from metal entirely. “I’m Sorry, This Is” is a guitar drone set against garbled speech and field recordings. “Where I Leave” shares pretty much nothing in common with the first 45 minutes of the record, but it works. The result of these stylistic choices make for a record that stands apart from most of the metal featured on this list, while remaining as intense, brooding and dark as anything I heard this year.”
Their set last night captured that essence perfectly. They were dynamic, they shifted expertly between clean and dirty, loud and soft, and it made for a fantastic performance. The opening combo of “10:56” and “Second Son Of R.” makes for a killer one-two punch. I can’t remember what else they played last night but those two songs were the the tip of the iceberg. I’m pretty sure they played “Immortals” at some point? What a great set. I can’t wait to see them again in August.
Oathbreaker – Immortals [MP3]
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