Rivers Of Nihil

Where Owls Know My Name

Written by: KW on 11/04/2018 18:22:13

Rivers of Nihil, from Reading, PA, have been putting out solid technical death metal since 2010 and have garnered critical acclaim in the past, especially with their 2015 release, “Monarchy” — an album which featured ferocious and crisp death metal with slight progressive tendencies, and saw the band release a unique take on the genre after their somewhat generic earlier material. Yet, evidently, they were just warming up to release their true magnum opus, which comes in the form of their newest album, “Where Owls Know My Name”. Boasting 56 minutes of forward thinking and increasingly progressive tech-death, Rivers of Nihil show themselves as a band still in rapid development, which makes it even more impressive that the resulting sound is this good.

After an introductory track, “Cancer / Moonspeak”, which perfectly sets the mood with its eerie synth sounds, comes the first absolute banger of a track. The first minute or so in “The Silent Life” is definitely bordering on Gojira-worship, which not only comes in the form of the marching, chuggy riff in the guitars, but also frontman Jake Dieffenbach’s mid-range ‘yells’, which have clear similarities to some of Joe Duplantier’s performances. However, this track also includes our first introduction to one of the recurring elements on the album: the inclusion of saxophone. This is an element that could just as well have been a pure gimmick to give the music a progressive edge, but it turns out to actually complement the soundscape incredibly well and gives a refreshing sound to the album.

Another such track, which includes the use of saxophone, is the complete prog metal masterpiece “Subtle Change (Including the Forest of Transition and Dissatisfaction Dance)”, which soars through several multi-faceted sounds: a prog rock intro-section akin to something you would hear on a Haken record and symphonic black metal vibes with vile screeches from frontman Dieffenbach towards the middle, before culminating in a calming and melancholic acoustic outro. This track is truly a journey — disorienting, brutal, challenging and beautiful all at the same time.

Yet, not all of the album has this intense focus on progressive compositions like the aforementioned tracks. There are a couple of simpler songs, songwriting-wise, on here as well (although the word ‘simpler’ should be taken with a grain of salt, given that this is a technical and progressive death metal band after all), namely “Old Nothing” and “Hollow”. “Old Nothing” sees the band go back to their tech death roots and while the speedy, kick-in-the-face riff and double pedals are surely face-melting, the track itself simply pales in comparison to the rest of the exciting tracks on offer here and frankly comes off as a bit dull. But the simplicity isn’t all detrimental. In fact, “Hollow” stands as my favourite track on the album; it contains a chill-inducing chorus and absolutely fantastic lead guitar work. While the general sound of this song is more focused on atmosphere and melancholy, it also features one of the most crushing tremolo picked riffs on the whole album, which just makes it all the more powerful in context. Dieffenbach’s vocals also really shine on this track, providing a sense of both anger and desperation through the lyrics that deal with a struggling mind:

Crush the stone in your hand until it bleeds

All of the pain that you've felt now isn't real, it never was

Only age and disillusion remain

I face it all the same

The last track I would like to give a shout-out to is “Death is Real”, where the use of delay effects are cleverly used to create a very sinister sounding tapestry, before one of the best bridge sections I have heard in a while leads into another neck-breaking display of a groovy death metal riff. It should also be noted that the production is massive sounding, modern and clear, albeit a bit overpowering when it comes to the drums, which can sound a bit too perfect and robotic at times. Overall, this is not enough of a problem to take too much away from the enjoyment of the album, but a more organic sounding kit and performance could have suited the sound well.

Rivers of Nihil have truly transcended and created something special with the release of “Where Owls Know My Name”, and they have frankly solidified themselves as one of the most interesting modern metal bands of our generation. I cannot begin to fathom where this band will go next, after this somewhat drastic change in sound, yet that actually just excites me even more. This is clearly a band that is not comfortable releasing the same album twice, and this time it has really paid off. Some older fans might be put off by the heavier focus on atmosphere and progressive elements, but as it stands right now, this is the release to beat in 2018.


Download: The Silent Life, A Home, Subtle Change, Hollow, Death is Real
For the fans of: Black Crown Initiate, Fallujah, Gojira
Listen: Facebook

Release date 16.03.2018
Metal Blade Records

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