For Fans Of
Fuck. Just… fuck me, man.
Rivers Of Nihil’s third album, the recently released ‘Where Owls Know My Name’, is a goddamn astounding record; one that I’d frenetically annoy anyone with if they asked me which standout metal albums of 2018 they should be checking out and consuming. Ever since my first listen of the American band’s new epic a couple weeks ago, I’ve been repeatedly drawn back to it and with very good reason.
Well produced by Carson Slovak and cleanly tracked during 2017 over at Atrium Audio, ‘Where Owls Know My Name‘ is the Pennsylvanian progressive death metal group existing at their highest peak. In a nutshell, this post-apocalyptic, cosmic-sized release is a potent blend of Gojira’s massive scope and molten riffs; the chugging death-metal-cross-metalcore style of Fit For An Autopsy; the intimidating and immense Karl Schubach-esque vocals (Misery Signals); well-composed atmospheric moments and far stronger songwriting dynamics than ther past works; more progressive and jazzier undertones seeping in deeper than ever before; to even a handful of jazz saxophone melodies spliced in that you’d expect from The Faceless (just minus all of the fucking interpersonal drama).
Hell, this record’s sole instrumental track – ‘Terrestria III: Wither‘ – is a different beast entirely from its fellow peers. As it’s the kind of slick, motif-driven electronic composition that Korn would’ve created amidst their experimental years with ‘The Paradigm Shift‘ or ‘The Path Of Totality‘, from the creepy, fluttering backing ambience and ’80s-like synth stabs early on, to obnoxiously loud pounding drum grooves and hi-fi wobbles with violins and melodic guitars sprinkled over the top from the middle onwards. It’s a pretty insane piece all up but most importantly, it’s a damn fine track that shows these guys don’t care about adhering to being some purist generic tech-death metal act and want to do whatever they wish. And I fuck with that approach.
In fact, that instrumental is just one piece of tangible evidence that clearly outlines how Rivers Of Nihil direct real care and well-thought-out effort into every stroke of their musical brush here. Whether they’re moving through brief, eerie spoken word sections and darker progressive soundscapes (‘Cancer/Moonspeak‘, ‘Capricorn/Agoratopia‘) or just dishing out punishing melodic death metal sections full of Brody Uttley’s and Jon Topore’s incredibly impressive guitar work and Jared Klein’s bombarding drums (‘Old Nothing‘, ‘A Home‘), it never once feels out of place. Whether they’re bringing in well-placed melodic atmospheric passages (the title track) or weaving through monstrously heavy sections over into saxophone-lead jazz flows (‘The Silent Life‘ and the bewildering eight-minute prog epic of ‘Subtle Change‘), it works beautifully so. And whether Rivers Of Nihil are making pretty tasteful usage of bassist Adam Biggs‘ clean singing (the fretboard-skipping and fast-riffage of ‘Hollow‘) or when they’re mixing it up even further with a baller electronic instrumental (the aforementioned ‘Terrestria III: Wither‘), ‘Where Owls Know My Name‘ is all the better and more memorable for it.
No doubt, this new Rivers Of Nihil LP is as eclectic as it is heavy and layered, which is to say, a fucking lot! And no, it never once comes off as messy nor is it ever overdone or inconsistent. If anything, this is more consistent and more cohesive than most other metal records you’ll experience this year – saxophones or not. Seriously, this album just continually impresses me on each and every listen, and even after multiple listens I’m still finding all of these new little things from the compositions and mixes to think about and muse over. And I cannot say that about most other metal records these days. There’s nothing wrong with a straight up, balls-to-the-wall heavy metal album like the new Judas Priest release, of course, but for those looking for something fresher, denser and deeper, you cannot pass on this release.
As for the backdrop narrative behind the veil of ‘Where Owls Know My Name‘, it supposedly picks up several millennia after the events of their last record, ‘Monarchy‘ (2015), where now only one individual remains alive, since being chosen by the planet to be the sole witness of the celestial giant’s coming fate. Or… something like that. Look, it’s not all that important: that story filler is just merely the conceptual vehicle for the band to create their most vivid and emotional work to date.
For at its core, ‘Where Owls Know My Name‘ is about the alienation between one’s heart and one’s home, of growing older, of seeing the larger world and understanding bigger picture beyond, and of becoming more accustomed to not only the thought of death but also the impact that it has upon your life. Which is reflected in the existential dread that oozes from the album’s front cover, created by Dan Seagrave (who also did covers for Entombed‘s ‘Left Hand Path‘ and Suffocation‘s ‘Effigy of the Forgotten‘), which shows the nameless protagonist now grown weary, old and tiresome; representing the state of humanity as well as the state of our Earth itself. This thematic heart is found not only within the pretty bleak tone of the lyrics and the imposing screams of solid vocalist Jake Dieffenbach but also in the band’s instrumental textures and timbres of their complex and incredibly proficient performances as well. All creating a really solid feedback loop of staggering and heady progressive death metal that’s more personal and more nuanced than you’d ever initially give a record like this credit for.
Rivers Of Nihil’s previous two offerings – 2013’s ‘The Conscious Seed of Light‘ and 2015’s ‘Monarchy’ – were just your typical tech-death/djenty releases that had some promise but never realised their full potential. Compared to ‘Where Owls Know My Name’ though, this new album is a galactic leap forward in songwriting, production, ambition, musical density, overall sound and what tastes the band are choosing to fill up their sonic palette with. No matter how you spin it, this is Rivers Of Nihil at their most musically interesting, at their most varied, at their most skilled, and also the band at their most creative too. You’re all looking at one of 2018’s better metal records right here!
- The Silent Life
- A Home
- Old Nothing [feat. Justin McKinney Of The Zenith Passage]
- Subtle Change (Including the Forest of Transition and Dissatisfaction Dance)
- Terrestria III: Wither
- Death Is Real
- Where Owls Know My Name
‘Where Owls Know My Name’ is out now – be about it! Also, check out the below video from the equally loved and hated folks over at MetalSucks.net with Rivers Of Nihil reacting to various music videos. It’s fucking great, watch it: