We are very pleased to offer Blow The Scene readers around the world an interview with Ghent, Belgium’s Oathbreaker, whose debut LP, Mælstrøm, has fans of metallic punk and d-beat salivating over their intricately crafted, 13-song ripper. Deathwish is calling Mælstrøm “one of the best debut albums we’ve ever heard,” and after spinning the record a few times, our assessment is right on par. Oathbreaker guitarist Lennart, and drummer Ivo, give BTS readers the skinny on the writing and recording processes behind Mælstrøm, equipment picks, favorite bands, insight on LP artwork, life in Ghent Belgium, and much more in this in-depth interview. Enjoy!
Joshua BTS: Greetings! Thank you for taking time with Blow The Scene readers from around the world! Let’s begin by having you introduce yourselves and declare your on-stage weapon of choice with Belgium’s fastest rising metallic punk outfit, Oathbreaker.
Ivo (Oathbreaker): Oathbreaker is Caro on vocals, Lennart on guitar, Gilles on bass and me [Ivo] on drums. We’ve been playing together since mid-2008.
Joshua BTS: Your debut full-length, Mælstrøm is about to drop on Deathwish on July 5. Give us the skinny on this forthcoming record. Where, when, and whom did you record with?
Lennart (Oathbreaker): Mælstrøm was recorded in the fall of 2010 with Michael Neyt and Lander Cluyse, two promising Belgian engineers who also happen to be good friends of ours. We recorded everything in a combination of studios and bedrooms. We sought the aid of Kurt Ballou to mix the record. I don’t think he needs any further introduction.
Lennart (Oathbreaker): Mælstrøm was very gradually written over the course of 2 years after we had released our debut self titled E.P. Writing new songs is really a process in which every member takes part, there’s no real system. We all come to practice with pieces and ideas, and try out different ideas to see what works best. It’s the only way we know how to write songs, even though there are faster ways I’m sure.
Joshua BTS: What are the significance of the album title “Mælstrøm” and the accompanying cover art? Who crafted the cover art?
Ivo (Oathbreaker): The title ‘Mælstrøm’ refers to the feeling of being trapped in a downward spiral without any possibility to escape. We chose this title since it perfectly fits the record and the lyrical themes used in the songs. We explained this idea to the guys from Webecameaware, who did the artwork. After tossing around some ideas, we decided to use hair for the cover art. It perfectly fits the bigger picture of Caro being sucked in the vortex, with the hair on the sleeve still being dry and using wet hair for the inner sleeve. Next to that, the waves of the hair also refer to the ocean. So the guys from Webecameaware cut out the amulet, and took pictures of Caro’s hair (both wet and dry) with the skeletons and amulet in it. It seemed a bit of a risky idea at the time, but it turned out really cool and perfectly fitting the record.
Joshua BTS: What are some of the lyrical focuses fans will find within the record?
Lennart (Oathbreaker): When writing lyrics for the album, our singer was greatly inspired by Tarot cards. Each card tells a story of its own and says something about a certain period in one’s life. When put together you get the entire course of someone’s life with its ups and downs. Each song is loosely based on one card. “Glimpse Of The Unseen,” for instance, is based on the card Ten of Swords, which represents a painful, devastating event in one’s life. After a while she came to the conclusion that she was picking a lot of more negative cards to write about, which in its turn brought about the image of a downward spiral, a mælstrøm.
Joshua BTS: Let’s zip back to the early days of Oathbreaker for a moment. What were the circumstances surrounding the band’s formation?
Lennart (Oathbreaker): Me, Gilles and Caro had been in the same band for a while, but we started to change stylistically and when we parted ways with our drummer, we thought the time was right to start over with a clean slate and formed a new band with Ivo on drums.
Joshua BTS: The Deathwish camp stated in a recently that, “Without question, Oathbreaker’s “Mælstrøm” is one of the best debut albums we’ve ever heard, and we trust you’ll feel the same way.” We at BTS agree. With such a gargantuan sound, I got to ask for my fellow gear nerds – Any pieces of equipment (cabs, heads, drums, mics, etc) that you find pivotal when capturing the overall sound of the band?
Lennart (Oathbreaker): Just like most guitarists, I’m a bit of a gear nerd, always trying out different amps, guitars, cabs, etc., but I think no particular piece of equipment was essential in the creation of our sound. We don’t have the Boss HM-2 sound or anything like that. I recorded the album using an Ampeg v4, Marshall Silver Jubilee and Soldano SLO with a Fender with EMG pickups and bass was done on a Precision Bass through an Orange amp, but I think any of these ingredients could be left out without hugely affecting the final outcome. The tuning and the way we play are more important.
Ivo (Oathbreaker): When it comes to the drums, we went out of our way to record them in the biggest possible studio. We were lucky to book one day in Jet Studio, one of the oldest studios in Belgium. It has this huge live room that used to be a theater and it sound really enormous, so I was really stoked on being able to record there. This way, we could put a lot of ‘room’ in the recordings, something that comes out especially near the end of “Glimpse Of The Unseen.” But I also think that our recording engineers Michael and Lander and of course Kurt played a crucial part in creating the sound you hear on the record. They succeeded in creating the sound we heard in our heads for this record.
Joshua BTS: Deathwish also noted “Oathbreaker are a brutal Punk/Metal band from Ghent, Belgium. To outsiders, Belgium is a country rich in cultural diversity and history. However to its residents it is also a country of crime, corruption, and political incompetence. For the Ghent based Oathbreaker, the festering blood that surfaces from these social cracks and fissures burns as fuel for their creative engine.” Can you elaborate on what specific social issues are fueling your creative engines?
Lennart (Oathbreaker): At the moment our country is in deep political crisis as we haven’t been able to form a government for over a year now. Most people’s belief in politics has almost completely evaporated. In the meanwhile, Europe is faced with a series of economical and monetary problems, which offer a pretty bleak perspective for the future. Things like this instill a feeling of despair and desperation that weighs on every aspect of our being.
Ivo (Oathbreaker): As a band we’re not a part of any defined political movement. It has never been our ambition to become a band with a political or a social agenda. As an individual however, I do try to closely follow both national and international politics. With the internet, getting informed has never been easier. Of course, getting mis-informed has also never been easier, but that’s the risk of any medium. I feel that it’s important to at least be aware of your surroundings and of the general state of the world we live in. Politics and economics are two of the factors that – whether you like it or not – will shape the society to come. A people gets the leaders it deserves, so it’s up to us to monitor what they’re doing.
Joshua BTS: The punk scene often vents lyrical themes focused on the ills of misogyny, racism, stereotypes, other social problems, but the people who comprise the bands are overwhelmingly made up of and supported by white males of middle to lower socio-economic status. Do you see a shift developing out this current hegemony that prevails throughout extreme music circles around the world?
Ivo (Oathbreaker): I’m not really sure if there’s a shift in the sense that there’s an active movement. But I do know that at the shows that I play or go to, the crowd has gotten more diverse over the years. Of course, being part of the majority you speak of, it’s probably not my place to make that call. I do however fully realize that I’m one of the lucky ones, who was brought up in an environment that made it possible for me to go to shows, to play music and to buy records. I can only hope that those who want to go to shows, have the ability to come and feel welcome.
Joshua BTS: What are some of the plus and minuses of being in a band that is based out Ghent, Belgium? Do you find it a convenient hub to get your music out to the rest of the world?
Lennart (Oathbreaker): I can hardly see any negative sides to being from Ghent. We have a lot of great bands and artists close by, which is usually very inspirational and if we need help with anything, we can easily find the right people for the job.
Lennart (Oathbreaker): This was something Deathwish decided, but that we’re totally happy with. It gives us the feeling that they are confident enough about our album to think enough people will still buy it, even if they have the option of just listening to it online.
Joshua BTS: What are some other artists, bands, or individuals that exciting you currently?
Lennart (Oathbreaker): My girlfriend for one excites me a great deal, other than that I recently saw a great show from a UK band called Tremors (tremorshardcore.com).
Ivo (Oathbreaker): I’m always into a lot of different stuff at the same time, so this is a rather difficult question. I was pretty happy to pick up the Live In The Land Of The Dead/Arsonist’s Prayer record by Catharsis when we played Hamburg a couple of months ago. Some recent stuff I picked up was the new Graveyard record, the last Ghostface Killah record and the new PJ Harvey record. Next to that, I’ve been getting into The La’s and Morphine lately. I visited San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, so I picked up a bunch of records in the Amoeba Store. Next to that, I’m looking forward to the new Black Breath album and the new Rise And Fall album also. I already heard some new R&F tracks, and they’ve definitely pushed the envelope once more. And personally, I can’t wait to start writing new material for Oathbreaker too.
Joshua BTS: When you are not busy writing, touring, and recording with Oathbreaker- What do your daily lives look like?
Lennart (Oathbreaker): Caro and Gilles are both still in college while Ivo and me spend our days working for the man.
Joshua BTS: Favorite spots to grab a bite on tour?
Lennart (Oathbreaker): This is something we’re not picky about. We’re happy to even get food at some of the places we play. The best meals are usually when we’re staying at someone’s house and their mom has been cooking.
Lennart (Oathbreaker): We’re playing some one off shows and a European tour with the Italian band Hierophant is also in the works. Furthermore we’re hoping to write some new songs for a future release already.
Joshua BTS: What are the best places for fans to keep up with Oathbreaker online?
Joshua BTS: Thank you kindly for taking time with Blow The Scene readers from around the world today as we look forward to covering your future endeavors. Any final thoughts?
Lennart (Oathbreaker): It may sound corny, but I’d just like to thank everyone that’s been checking us out. When we recorded this album, we thought we were doing it for ourselves and our friends. We never suspected it would be this well received, so that feels great. Also, thanks to Deathwish for believing in us.
– Interview by Joshua T. Cohen
Sample and Order Mælstrøm at Deathwish
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