Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2023
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Privacy Policy

Rivers of Nihil > Where Owls Know My Name > Reviews
Rivers of Nihil - Where Owls Know My Name

"Everybody's dead, Dave" - 98%

LawrenceStillman, May 25th, 2023
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, Metal Blade Records

Rivers of Nihil is a progressive/technical death metal band hailing from Pennsylvania, US. While their previous 2 albums had a balanced mix between tech and prog, this album marks the band's direction towards a more proggy endeavour, similar to bands like Opeth or Black Crown Initiate. This album is definitely one of the most controversial death metal records to come out in recent years. Due to how much experimentation RON did for this album, it alienated a lot of death metal purists that only think progressive death metal that goes too prog is a sellout and genre traitor. But for me, any experimentation that makes the music more enjoyable is always a good thing; otherwise, we would not get bands like Opeth if all death metal musicians thought like their audience did.

RON's inclusion of a wind instrument here is a bold gamble for the album, as the inclusion of a saxophone is unheard of outside of avant-garde acts like Sigh. But unlike most musical experimentation, this gamble ultimately paid off, as it fits into technical and progressive death metal like a glove. The saxophone can add beauty and layers to the musical harmony, but it can also be chaotic and dissonant whenever it is necessary. The interlude during The Silent Life is a fine example of dissonance in action. But even if the saxophone is removed, the instruments themselves are still excellent in their own right. It is technical and tight, but not devolving into technical wankery, unlike bands similar to Necrophagist, making all the technicality fit into the music perfectly and conveying what the music wants to express.

The instruments are, unsurprisingly, really good this time around. The guitars kept the atmospheric, airy feeling that they have been known for during Monarchy, which made it a direct upgrade to mid-2010s Fallujah. The bass is crunchy and virtuosic, just like it was in the previous album. But compared to Monarchy, the drums are way more intense this time around, with double bass and blast beats everywhere. The same can be said for the crazy jazz-inspired drum fills and beats too. It's clear that the music for this album has a bigger focus on jazz fusion compared to their previous works. One thing I noticed that no one talked about was the inclusion of keyboards in some of the tracks. Similar to the approach that Regnum Caelorum Et Gehenna took, the keyboards are mostly for atmosphere and were not meant to be the leading instrument. Instead, they sit at the back of the mix, supporting the remaining instruments. The vocals are still the same as in Monarchy; Jake's harsh vocals are still as intelligible as ever, taking on the role of an apocalyptic narrator, while Adam Biggs' vocals (the black metal-esque shrieks) are pretty rare, but when it needs to make an impact, boy does he deliver.

Conceptually, this is a sequel to Monarchy's plot. After all the humans are wiped out in Suntold, the earth (who is sentient) gives one human the gift of immortality so it can witness the death of the planet. While the tale is ultimately pointless in principle, it does give off this feeling of inevitability and the ephemeral nature of life itself. It is a really powerful message that no matter who you are, everyone dies at the end.

The production is pretty decent, like all releases on Metal Blade Records. Every instrument has a high level of clarity, and thus nothing is buried under the amount of audible chaos and noise. MBR might be one of the most consistent labels at delivering pristine-sounding records nowadays, unlike Nuclear Blast, which aims to brickwall as many albums as it can get its filthy hands on.

This is one of those albums that reminds you why you love music and what it can achieve. It is still one of the best prog/tech albums I have heard in 2023, on par with the classic Opeth albums like Still Life, and considering how much of a musical behemoth Opeth was back in the day, this speaks volumes to just how good this album is. Unfortunately, they tread water after this album and released The Work, which is a huge step back in quality.

Highlights: Subtle Change, Where Owls Know My Name, The Silent Life

Overbaked - 65%

aidane154, January 3rd, 2022

Rivers of Nihil is a talented band, no doubt. They've carved a niche for themselves in the progressive death metal scene with flourishes such as saxophone parts. While they have a lot going for them, I can't say that I myself am a fan, even though on paper I totally should be.

There's a criticism leveled at 70s jazz rock legends Steely Dan that their music is overproduced and "too perfect", so it therefore lacks soul. I personally don't think that's true in their case, but for Rivers, this absolutely does seem to apply, at least to my ears. These songs would be way better with 80s/90s style boominess and mud. The songs Rivers serve up here are well done for sure, but the production is so sterile and perfect that it saps them of the realness (for lack of a better word) they need in order to truly bite. Everything is mixed perfectly, but it's almost too perfect, so much so that it doesn't even sound human anymore. This is not the only reason I dislike this album, but it certainly is something I wanted to mention, because it contributes to the boredom I feel while I listen.

The first true song outside of the intro, The Silent Life, sounds like Gojira when it's heavy, but launches into a pretty nice clean interlude with a sax solo. Strangely, these clean instrumental parts entertain me the most, and I think it's partially because they don't feature their main vocalist, Jake Dieffenbach. His performance isn't really that great in my opinion. Their backing vocalist/bassist, Adam Biggs, should be the main guy, as I feel that this music would benefit from his higher pitched harsh vocals. I was bored as hell when I saw them live, until Biggs had some standout vocal moments, at which point my interest was captured. The friend I came with remarked that Biggs made Dieffenbach obsolete, and I can't help but agree.

I must reiterate that this music often sounds lifeless due to the production and songwriting, as tracks like Old Nothing feature crazy tremolo riffs produced so cleanly, it almost sounds programmed. I'm not asking for mistakes, but a little bit of rawness and imperfection would enhance these tracks a lot. It sounds nearly electronic when they do technical parts. It feels wrong to keep saying that this music is too perfect as if that's valid criticism, but the production and style the band opts for truly does prevent this record from becoming something great.

So, Rivers of Nihil's production is too clean, their main vocalist is boring and one-dimensional, and their clean parts overshadow their heavy parts (which is odd for a tech-death band). You might ask, what's to like? Well, since the production is so clean, you can hear the bass parts really well, and Biggs does a lot of cool stuff with his instrument. The guitars also sometimes impress rhythmically, especially on tracks like A Home. The guitar solos are usually great when they showcase technicality, but when they don't, they're relegated to an ambient role.

Subtle Change is probably my favorite track on here, it's one of the few songs which ebbs and flows through clean and heavy parts (with actual singing) quite effectively. The proggy riffs and keyboard solos really remind me of Dream Theater at their best. This is one of the few tracks that didn't leave me bored; that's right, it actually made me feel something! Biggs is featured quite prominently both vocally and instrumentally on this one, and overall, it just works. I wish they could capture the same energy on other tracks, because a lot of this album's tunes are in desperate need of the emotion and humanity on display here. Death is Real was honestly pretty good as well, as it doesn't lean on Dieffenbach as much, and features some fun guitar and bass wankery. I also liked the electronic elements on display during instrumental track Terrestria 3, which starts off with clean ambience but breaks out into some hard-hitting electronica about halfway through.

This album just makes me bored, and I really shouldn't be, because it's got so much going for it. The modern, sterile production on here is probably some people's wet dream, but it's not mine. I expected to hear something exciting like Death's later albums or Cynic's Focus, but I was rarely interested while listening. I wish I liked Where Owls Know My Name more than I do, but I just can't seem to get into it, which is a shame. The instrumentalists are all very talented, and sometimes they really ball out, but the band's instrumental prowess is robbed of a certain je ne sais quoi by the production and Dieffenbach's frankly lackluster vocals.

Rivers of Nihil - Where Owls Know My Name - 100%

chrisc7249, October 23rd, 2021

Rivers of Nihil has become one of the most controversial and well known bands in technical death metal in the past few years. Things started out rather standard with their first two records, but took a wild turn with the release of the album reviewed here, their third album "Where Owls Know My Name," released in 2018. This saw the band treading new waters, going headfirst into atmospheric and progressive death metal, in the vein of Black Crown Initiate on LSD. WOKMN is one of the most challenging, controversial and experimental death metal records to be released in the 21st century, and its ambitious efforts have succeeded exponentially to these ears.

Rivers of Nihil exceed where Fallujah began to fail towards this time. Where Fallujah began to focus too much on atmosphere and began making more and more boring music after their first album, Rivers of Nihil managed to make the atmosphere interesting by adding more layers to it. The most obvious of this, the main talking point of the album, is the use of a saxophone regularly. They helped spearhead this movement by infusing wind instruments into technical death metal, now seeing Exocrine and Fractal Universe among others head in this direction. The saxophone works well with the technical death metal, as the beauty of this instrument mixes perfectly with the chaos of the music. And when the music doubles down on the chaos, the sax will become dissonant and intense, evoking a sense of fear.

The technical death metal itself is tight as fuck, with a lot of meaty riffs, flashy solos and jazz/classic interludes. Good riffs are not a rarity on this album, as each song seems to have a plethora or chunky riffs, most notably the monstrous riff in the middle of "Old Nothing" that makes the song worth repeating multiple times just for that one part. "The Silent Life" and "Death is Real" are also good examples of songs with meaty riffing in them. The solos are just as gorgeous as anything else on this record, memorable, clean and emotional. The emotion above all is the greatest feature of this entire album, as each song is like a rollercoaster of feelings, from angry and intense to melancholy and hopeless. The lyrics help with these narratives as the story carries on into the fall theme, matching the depressiveness of the autumn season.

The instrumentation is unsurprisingly technically adequate and impressive. The guitars are masterful, as the solos are not only emotive, but complex without being just a wall of notes. The drumming is blisteringly heavy, as crazy fills are delivered at Mach 1 speed, leading me to believe that all these tech death drummers have to be sharing some underground drug that gives them the energy to be able to do this. The bass playing is also impressive, jazzy and surreal as it helps balance the guitars and drumming very well. Vocals are the weak point, as is usually the case with these records - they're, again, not bad at all, but they don't stand out either. The clean singing is nice but the regular growls might as well be copied and pasted from other bands.

"Where Owls Know My Name" certainly isn't for everyone - I can see people being turned off by this album quite easily. Not only is technical death metal looked at negatively by elitists, but the almost poppy, atmospheric elements and the bloody sax may seem pretentious and overdramatic. I think everything is pretty much perfect in my eyes. It's just so enchanting, and it's one of those albums that transports me to a different realm and I could just listen to it again and again without issue. I've been listening to it for 3 years and it just seems to get better every time. I've heard two of the songs from the new album that was just released, and was not impressed at all. It seems very disappointing, but I'll save that for another day when I decide to listen to the new album. Until then, this will do, and it does more than enough - this is one of the greatest progressive/technical death metal albums ever written.

FFO: Fallujah, Burial in the Sky, Black Crown Initiate
Favorite song: Old Nothing
Final score: 10/10

Commence Thy Spirit - 90%

russell2937, August 22nd, 2019
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, Metal Blade Records

The first time I found this band I listened to their song "Perpetual Growth Machine" and I thought it was pretty decent and had a super catchy main riff. I said why not and decided to listen to one of their albums later that day. This was the album I chose. With the exception of the intro track ("Cancer / Moonspeak") and "Terrestria III: Wither" which are just instrumentals meant to open the album and add flow respectively, I loved pretty much every song on the album. Before I get into the meat of the review I wanted to talk about my main gripe with the album, the production. This album is really clean and obviously produced pretty thoroughly. I cant help but think how much better the album would sound a little dirtier and with less effects on the cleans.

While I thoroughly think this album is meant and should be listened to front to back, I couldn't help but add some of the songs from this album to my playlists (The Silent Life, Old Nothing, Subtle Change, and Where Owls Know My Name) The flow in this album is so god damn good with some of the atmosphere and breaks being the best I've ever heard injected into this style of music. I'm not going to address the saxophone parts much as I can take them or leave them, but the band has spoken that they will most likely not be using it for their next album as it was something they just wanted to experiment with with. The clean parts are surely produced a little too much but I don't think there's auto tune (at least much of it) as you can find clips of them recording the vocals online and they sound pretty much exactly how they sound on the album.

Lets talk riffs and flow on some of the songs that are a little more notable on the album, as without riffs, this album would be nothing. Literally.

The Silent Life opens with a really cool dissonant chord progression with a meaty bass line over it transitioning into a riff that you can't not headbang to. Seriously a good opener for this album. One of the things I like most about this song is it shows just how they dialed back the technicality a bit so that they could truly shine in the writing department, as well as adding breaks to really make the heaviest parts stand out.

One of my favorite parts about this album is when they just go all in on a section, or in this case, a whole song. Old Nothing is a very interesting song that truly showcases how just god damn good this album shines in sections. The song has blistering fast palm muted tremolo picking for the main riff and is absolutely stacked with double bass pounding. The song manages to keep my attention every time I listen to it. The ending to this song is one of the most memorable as it slowly fades out with a chunky riff and Jake Dieffenbach repeatedly belting "COMMENCE THY SPIRIT," one of my favorite moments on the album in all honesty.

This album truly shines in the progressive department at some points on this album, primarily shown on Subtle Change. This song is such a gem that seems to have gone a little under the radar as far as this band goes, probably because this isn't what people are listening to Rivers of Nihil for, they're here for the tech death carnage that they've released in the past, but this song is, for lack of better words, a flawed masterpiece in my opinion. I don't want to ruin any of this song in case you haven't listened to it yet, but there's a lot of blues / jazz influence in some of the riffs with some cool arpeggios, but don't get me wrong this song also has the heaviest mid-section of this album on it. "I feel sickened, entropic vision" is growled with such vitriol with pummeling riffs under it and believe it or not, there is a black metal section on this song too, nearly a whole minute of pure kvlt.

The last song I want to talk about has been stuck in my head since I first heard this album, over two months ago. While I may not have mentioned the other songs on this album, they are still very good, I didn't want to do a track by track review but rather point out the highlights that are in my personal opinion the best shining moments and songs on the record. The song in question I'm going to talk about is Where Owls Know My Name, my favorite song on the record. I don't know why, it neither has the best writing or the most captivating riffs but it just resonated with me personally in a way nothing has before. Something about the lyrics and the melody at the start with the groovy riffs and the outro instrumentals gives me the feels.

Anyway, if you were to ask me if you should get this album or maybe just listen to it online, I would say you should do it as soon as possible. I rate this album a 9/10 and sincerely hope this band gets the recognition they deserve.

Instant prog classic! - 95%

Feast for the Damned, May 14th, 2019

They did it! After a little less than a decade of being active, they released their 3rd album which made the band explode into the headliner category bands. Anything they did wrong on any of their previous records is gone, COMPLETELY FUCKING GONE! No deathcore elements at all, weird instrumentation, progressive and technical elements that could make bands like Obscura and Revocation jealous and variety in the vocals(!!!). This is easily their best release so far and it will stay this way for a while...

Now let's see why this album is that great. Well, I could talk about the amazing instrumentation for example, and the same things could be said about this album as the last one: song structures are complex, but they have an amazing flow to them (and this is one of the most important things for tech death bands), the extraordinary technical guitars and drumming are also here as usual with their blazing solos. You would think from this that it's your basic tech death, but you would be terribly wrong. The progressive elements in it makes it truly unique: the acoustic and sometimes nearly ambient segments of some songs, the use of saxophone (which actually made a bunch of people go ape-shit on the album), the mix of clear, shrieking and growling vocals just take it to a whole new level.

The chilling intro that is Cancer / Moonspeak (which is clearly the greatest intro that the band has ever made) starts the album off with a great atmosphere, but as soon as it's over, one of the greatest (if not the best) songs of this release starts playing. The Silent Life has everything you would ask from a Rivers of Nihil song and even more. Fast, weird tempo changes and heavy fucking vocals, yet there is space for a calm part, saxophone solo, and shrieking. As soon as it's done comes A Home, which has everything that made the previous song great with progressive elements cracked to the maximum. All of these could be said about basically every single song on the album it's that consistently amazing.

The only negative element I could mention about this album is.... well there isn't any. From the Mastodon like clear singing elements, through the industrial-ish instrumental song, to the use of saxophone and other weird instruments, everything suits this album no matter how risky they sound on paper.

Overall this is easily the the 2nd best "death metal" release of 2018. It lacks mistakes, although I wouldn't call it perfection since it's not an album that I could listen to anytime, you need to be in the mood for it, but when you are then you are in for an experience that you won't forget for a long time.

The highlights of the album are: The Silent Life, A Home and Hollow.

Defining Metaphysics and Esotericism - 95%

Petrus_Steele, March 30th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, Metal Blade Records

I remember reading a post from Rivers of Nihil on Reddit stating that their records are conceptual. This concept, however, only goes deeper into these decaying, depressed nature-freaks of this desolated and abandoned world they sing about; isolated from all life. People didn’t rate Where Owls Know My Name as the “metal album of 2018” for nothing. Third time’s a charm perfectly applies in this scenario from the first two records. Rivers of Nihil have perfected their sound, experimentation and origin with this masterpiece.

The atmosphere and the experiment are consistent and unveil a new world within the death metal universe. Blasting drum sequences, neat and catchy guitar works with explosive solos, the developed and insane death growls, the horrifying shrieking from none other than the bassist, along with his amazing clean vocals and impressive bass lines. The band also welcomed additional friends, from the Thomas siblings Sarah & Andy to the saxophone player Zach Strouse, who’s probably the best part about this whole record. This shows that the band has finally found their direction and shocked the world without having to question the brutality of the music and the genre itself, as if they’re a bad thing. It shows you a unique perspective of what musicians can accomplish within the genre.

The record begins with the hauntingly beautiful prelude Cancer / Moonspeak (and what I liked more about the structure of this amazing release, is that the prelude is practically the interlude for Capricorn / Agoratopia). The guitarists remarkably used the chorus effect for the atmosphere, and the haunting vocals are terrifying with the clean vocals. Just what I needed! The background voices remind me of the first Max Payne game, where in one soundtrack of the game you can hear background voices (refer to the second nightmare level in the game). That’s how powerful the band can start their records; putting you in this state of mind, you’re into the story, demonstrated by the music. That says quite a lot...

The first half of the record already gives you a glimpse of the experiment, atmosphere, unorthodox instrumentation and the saxophone work for the first time (and just to point out the mind-blowing bridge/breakdown of The Silent Life). The other half speaks for itself on how the band can range within the subgenres of death metal. All the instruments and vocal styles take a huge part in making this record, thus creating balance. Nothing is being overshadowed. The longest and longest-titled song is a happy and scary one. Subtle Change (Including the Forest of Transition and Dissatisfaction Dance) offers acoustic guitars and guitar tapping before the solos, background music fueling the atmosphere, catchy organ/keyboards, a saxophone that sounds like something you’d listen from Blade Runner‘s soundtrack, and sister Sarah showing her vocals. This whole freaking song is like a video game, revealing the band’s experimental capabilities the most.

At this point, the instrumental track Terrestria III: Wither is a clear representation of what the album cover looks like: a personified apocalyptic wasteland. Hollow, being my favorite song, is incomprehensibly astonishing with the shocking death growls at the end of the choruses, as if you’re beating something up. Death Is Real is just too groovy and too Meshuggah-like (especially in the bridge), which the inspiration came from the first EP. Probably the most brutal and energetic song, the title track - by far the finest guitar work. We're talking about the notes, the solos, the effects and the extra acoustic guitars. As for the last song, Capricorn / Agoratopia describes what hell is from the band’s concepts. The choruses are bone-crushing and intensive. Like I said... a personified apocalyptic wasteland.

With the being said, while it's a near-perfect death metal record, some parts still don’t sound like they belong. Despite mentioning how Subtle Change (Including the Forest of Transition and Dissatisfaction Dance) is both happy and scary - and being the most experimental song, it’s not fulfilling like the rest of the songs and doesn’t remain faithful to the concept. Terrestria III: Wither is on the same boat. The background instrumentation is what made this track welcome you into the rather creepier side, but other than that, it’s empty. Terrestria I and II speak more volumes. I feel like if these two tracks weren’t in the record, the band could've used those spare 12-some minutes and make some shorter songs longer. A Home, Old Nothing, Hollow, and to make Capricorn / Agoratopia even longer than it already is for being the dominant songs. It would be the perfect 8-track death metal record, sounding even more powerful.

I don’t think the band will ever top this record, not to mention fans will regard it as one of the best in modern death metal, as it’s influential to the experimental side of things. It’s their magnum opus for sure, and I believe it will stand the test of time like other bands that brought something new for technical and progressive death metal subgenres. I bet you’ll have a hard time choosing your favorite/s, but if you were to choose a few, mine would be the prelude Cancer / Moonspeak, A Silent Life, Old Nothing, Hollow, Death Is Real, and Capricorn / Agoratopia.

Forcefully grinding on death and decay - 87%

andreipianoman, February 16th, 2019

Rivers of Nihil came highly recommended to me more than once and their latest album "Where Owls Know My Name" made it on quite a lot of 2018's top 10 lists. Eventually I had to see for myself what all the fuss is about and to be perfectly honest I don't find it exactly "better" than other technical death metal albums released last year (For example Beyond Creation or Irreversible Mechanism) but it certainly offers a seriously surprising and unique experience, displaying extremely high levels of technicality, composition and overall musical mastery.

The first thing that hit me about Rivers of Nihil was the sheer aggression that they deliver. This has to be one of the heaviest and most impactful albums I have listened to even in the tech-death area. The reason for that is partly the raw brutality of the riffs, bass and drums but also the outstanding production work that makes the whole soundscape sound like a total downpour of devastation. The one thing I disliked about the mix of this album is exactly the one that makes it stand out. Everything sounds super processed, mathematical, flat and lifeless but not in the way you might expect. Because it is also absolutely massive! There's just this raw, empty stream of relentless savagery in the drum sound, prominent gut-punching bass and grinding overdriven guitar effects that there's really no room for anything else. It is clear that they had heaviness as their first priority in all that concerns production, mixing and mastering.

At first I was a bit bugged by this because it's so machinery-like that you almost feel it's played on a computer program but after giving it some more time and also digging into the concept, it became pretty clear to me that it's not supposed to feel like it's played by humans. There is no vitality in this album because it's all about death. The story is a continuation of their previous albums that I am not familiar with but you don't need any background to understand it. They present the last man on Earth as the sole conscious witness of death on the planet. And that morbidity is actually expressed in the mix. Because it is so flat and linear but also somehow digital it does build up a pretty strange, hollow and sickening atmosphere that allows every vibration to reek of despair, hopelessness and decay. That also comes through in the screams that are also pretty flat but still aggressive and somehow tormented. I guess the idea that comes with this savage but completely stiff sound is the inevitability of death as despite any hope or emotion the man may conceive, everything remains cold, still and dead around him. Obviously the lyrics bring out regret, loss, aging and death.

Now the composition itself is also based primarily on brute force. The riffs have little to no melody. The bass easily comes through in the mix though it generally stays in the low octaves and the drums are an ongoing grind on pedals and blast beats that most likely drains every last drop of sweat from the man behind the kit. There are also guitar solos based on excessive technique and shredding and not much else. However, they take smooth turns towards clean guitars, more groovy bass and drum parts and unveil elements like saxophone, cello and trumpet. These parts do NOT contrast with the depressive vibe! On the contrary, they enhance it. The use of these unexpected instruments carries a sad and mournful tone that builds a deathly, funeral atmosphere. In the end this is undoubtedly the darkest tech-death album I have listened to!

I have to say that overall, the album is masterfully pieced together but between the storm of techy noise, apocalyptic concept and eerily depressive atmosphere it does feel a bit toxic and exhausting, especially given that it's almost an hour long. For a good dose of uncontained rage, I recommend one or two songs off this album but I'm afraid a full stream is potentially brain-damaging and I suggest you meditate a while and contemplate on inner peace before you get into that.

The owl gods are pleased. - 94%

Ludice, November 21st, 2018

Rivers of Nihil continues their musical dominance in a somewhat unusual, but very mellifluous and enjoyable way with their latest, most ambitious effort to date. Where Owls Know My Name is a pretty good example of a band not being scared of going out of their safe zone and trying out something new, going away from usual riff heavy tech death into more experimental territory, continuing their growth with an open minded view of tech death with features such as saxophones and beautiful acoustic and keyboard sections.

Unlike the previous two albums where the first track was a typical metal intro, this one is opened by a rather mellow, very later Opeth-esque track that absolutely soothes the listener before the epic rest of the album blows your ears, which honestly really surprised me and made a good impression right off the bat. Right afterwards comes the awesome tech death beauty that is The Silent Life and the beautiful, solo laden adventure Subtle Change. Adam on the bass is, along with the vocals, a definite highlight of the record for me. His talents really shine in Subtle Change and the title track.

The vocals are spot on and brutal throughout the whole record, but the highlight for me is the self titled Where Owls Know My Name where Jake and Adam absolutely steal the spotlight, along with the sax. Many might find the sax parts on this record cliché and needless; in my opinion, it's pretty difficult to make an instrument like the sax fit into a metal record, but the band executed the potential of the sax in a way that absolutely fits the tech death parts and made it work beautifully.

The album ends with, in my opinion, the two best tracks of the whole record, the self titled song, and Capricorn / Agoratopia. The self titled is absolutely beautiful in all aspects - both the tech death, and the more mellow clean vocals parts which I mentioned above; the last song is the product of when you put the whole album you've just listened to into one song, and is probably the best possible closing song the band could've come up with. Despite being a bit longer, it doesn't feel needlessly drawn out just for the sake of the song's length.

Overall, this is a joy of an album to listen to and by far the best we've heard of Rivers of Nihil so far, and I hope they continue to explore the style of this album even further in the future.

A subtle change - 75%

MikeyC, September 26th, 2018

Rivers of Nihil have been around for a bunch of years and have released a couple of albums already, but it’s not until this album came out that I had even heard of these guys. Prior to its release, Where Owls Know My Name had started to receive very positive buzz, mainly due to the first track they released “The Silent Life.” I must admit I got caught up in the hype myself, with the perfect blend of brutality, melody, and sax. Now the album has been released, I’ve heard it a bunch of times, and the hubbub that was surrounding the album has largely subsided. That’s the natural life cycle, I suppose, however the lucky thing for Where Owls Know My Name is that it still sounds fresh and exciting each time I play it.

After you notice the stunning cover art with its subtle green colour, the first track sets a very melancholy scene to what’s coming. Once the music begins, I first noticed that the production was actually really good. Everything can be well heard, with no instrument overpowering any other. I also noticed a good dichotomy between the hard hitting parts and the softer parts, allowing both the suffocation of their power and the space of their subtleties. Their first single “The Silent Life” exemplifies this with their saxophone section sandwiched between death metal. Other songs such as “Subtle Change” and “Where Owls Know My Name” also show snippets of saxophone and show the range this album presents – in particular the title track shows a much more melodic side to the album that was hinted on earlier, but this one extends that to the whole song.

The three-peat of “Subtle Change,” “Terrestria III: Winter,” and “Hollow” is my favourite part of the album, without a doubt. “Subtle Change” is a long track taking you through many moods that has their most intense blasting section (you’ll know it when you hear it) before coming back with some more saxophone afterwards as a sort of intermission to the track before returning for one last hurrah with the chorus. It all works seamlessly together. It flows into “Terrestria III: Winter” which bisects the album but sounds really nice with its quasi-industrial sounds. Then that leads into my favourite song on the whole album “Hollow,” with it’s amazing clean vocals, lyrics, and scintillating drum work.

As much as there is good here, a flaw arrives in that some songs are just not as good as others, which hurts the album in that I’m waiting for the good ones to come. None of the songs are outright bad, but I find that songs such as “Old Nothing” and “Death is Real” just don’t have the same vitamins and minerals as the stand-outs here like “A Home” and “Hollow.” Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with these songs, and it’s not like they’re stylistically different to anything else presented here, but I don’t find them to be anywhere near as interesting. Another point of conjecture might be the title track “Where Owls Know My Name” in that it’s likely the most melodic track here, with its abundance of cleans, lack of blasting, and its general rock-like structure. I don’t mind it, although I would’ve liked it to be a minute or so shorter.

Despite that, Where Owls Know My Name is a real winner in my mind. Even the “bad” songs aren’t actually that bad, and the good songs, namely “A Home,” “Subtle Change,” and especially “Hollow,” really stand out and give this album a lot to hold onto. I hope Rivers of Nihil continue this direction they’ve carved for themselves, but for now I think this is a really great album and will get plenty of spins.

Old, Wrinkly Head: Green Lands of Dead Trees - 79%

Mailman__, August 31st, 2018

Rivers of Nihil is one of those bands that you hardly hear about until they release a new album, and when that happens, everyone loses their shit.  This is probably due to Metal Blade being one of the biggest metal labels and they sold this band very well this year but whatever.  This band is one of those tech death bands that has guitars tuned low enough to make Dave Mustaine throw a fit and is muddy like Allegaeon or early Arsis.

For me, anticipation for this album started when I was scrolling through the "Upcoming Albums" tab on The Metal Archives, saw Rivers of Nihil, and was like "hey they're tech death, right?"  Cool story, right?  I know, I'm great at telling them.  The singles started to drop, and I listened.  The first two were "A Silent Life" and "A Home," the first two tracks on the album (a bad sign, if you're me).  The third single was the title track which was track nine (a good sign).  The singles sounded good to me, although the title track was pretty dull compared to the other two singles.  They were chuggy and almost groovy but mostly just extremely atmospheric.  That is, more atmospheric than Monarchy, their previous 2015 effort.

The atmosphere on this album is very welcome because I usually love that kind of stuff, especially when it's done right, and, trust me, it's done right here.  There's a nice flow to the album that goes beyond being limited to one track, and it carries the listener on a down-tuned ride of sweet melodies and jazzy passages.  This flow is lost with "Old Nothing," a track that has nice atmosphere, but it comes and goes as the song jumps through various sequences.  In fact, I lied because this flow really only lasts through the first three tracks (including the intro) and through the tracks "Subtle Change" and "Terrestria III: Wither."

Speaking of "Terrestria III: Wither," I hate to admit it, but I've always had a sweet spot for good techno, so I think that the song is okay.  I understand that a lot of metalheads hate techno, and I would disapprove of it, should it not fit in the album.  However, this particular song does fit where it is, and I think it serves as an interesting intermission.

When the title track finally rolls around, it starts with this crunchy guitar that doesn't sound good, only to lead into clean vocals that are almost metalcore whiney.  After the intro, everything smooths up and it becomes a good track.  I really don't know if it's actually a good song or if the two songs before it made it look good by being boring.  Whatever it is, I know for a fact that it isn't up to par with "A Home" or " The Silent Life."

Also, I watched the mini documentary (or, what I could get through before I got bored) of the process they went through to write this album, and I remember one band member saying it was highly influenced by Pink Floyd and other classic rock bands.  I'd just like to point out that that riff about two and a half minutes into "Subtle Change" is half metal, half "Carry on My Wayward Son" by Kansas.  Also, the whole intro to the song is straight from a 1970s dad rock band like Foghat, Led Zeppelin, Rush, or, duh, Pink Floyd.

Here's the gist of this album: it starts out very strong only to dissolve into really boring death metal that is hardly technical.  It just hits a lull after the techno track where everything is just going through the motions.  Also, one of the tracks after "Terrestria III" is literally called "Death Is Real."  Oh, thanks I forgot.  Where Owls Know My Name is pretty different for this band, but that doesn't mean it's great.  I would hardly even call it good.  It's mediocre, having only four or five songs that I really enjoyed, and that doesn't include the techno song.

Overall Rating: 79%

Originally written for

What. The. Fuck - 0%

splntrdgrss, June 11th, 2018

You could say I'm an open minded person. My favorite music genre is no doubt metal, especially death metal, but I'm able to name a couple of records that I like in most kinds of music whose existence I'm aware of. I'm not an elitist by any means, and I'll enjoy both the death and the core, so to speak. I'm no stranger to sonic mayhem of all sorts, as I've even ventured as far as harsh noise. Lately, I've decided to check out "what's hot", what's the top 50 music these days. One artist comes to mind, and that is Dua Lipa, a pop singer. I figured that even though her music is predictable and kind of shallow, it sounds pleasing to the ear and catchy, and the production is simply flawless, for the goals it means to achieve. People criticizing the genre for not having much depth and appealing to the lowest common denominator, for me, come off as pretentious, because this is exactly what is says on the tin. Pop music. You get what you click. And honestly, I don't care it's mass-produced by the machinations of capitalism. They've gotten so good at it that artists have managed to become distinctive, taking little details into the fabrication equation.

And regardless of my traits and musical experience, this, this makes me fear for my life. It gives me existential dread of sorts. Have you ever seen one of those "for kids" apparently computer generated videos that appear on YouTube, featuring Spiderman, Elsa, Hulk, Joker, et cetera? These have millions of views, and once you venture deep enough into the rabbit hole, you'll notice that some of these contain weird, uh, fetishes? Such as being buried alive, forcing needles into eyes, general gore, eating feces, and the list goes on. Presented in such a way that is extremely disconcerting and uncanny. I find "Where Owls Know My Name" to be on the same page. A manufactured product lost somewhere in between the authentic (such as old school death metal), and the unrealistic (pop music, so overproduced that the sound can never be replicated live sans playback), but still pleasant. Stuck in the uncanny valley of the neural network "mind", produced by feeding it information through deep learning algorithms. And it rears its ugly, abominable head.

Listen to 0:30 and onward in the track "Death is Real". Now, the title of this review pretty sums up my reaction. On my first listen, I clicked straight into the part, because just the first two seconds of the track assured me that I'm in for something boring. And oh boy, I regret not turning the whole thing off altogether. Without context, I was under the assumption that this is some kind of special effect placed on the music, akin to what a lot of deathcore bands use before breakdowns; an EQ sweep that cuts out all the treble and bass. To my horror, I was wrong. The next section showed absolutely no change in dynamics or general tone, so it couldn't have been an effect. Listening again, starting a few seconds before 0:32, I realized that this is supposed to be a blast beat. Holy fuck. I had a hard time discerning each single element of the movement, as this on first impression seemed like something vaguely techno-like. But in reality, there's a guitar. There's bass, there's a snare, there's a kick, and there's a hi-hat (?). The drums, sonically, are completely lifeless and stale, as if from a cheap drum machine. I mean, they apparently do have a drummer, but this doesn’t even sound like a badly triggered drum performance, nor an electronic drumset. Infant Annihilator has constant, piercing snare hits, which, while sounding laughably fake, do carry a ton of power. Sure, it’s 127 on the MIDI volume scale all the time, but it does the job. Rivers of Nihil seem to float around a constant 90. Mediocre, inoffensive. If I were to find a fitting onomatopoeia for the snare, it would be a muted “plomp”. Plomp plomp plomp. Maybe with a double “o”. Something like “ploomp”. Complimented by scratchy, djenty guitars and a nigh inaudible bass, this creates an uncanny parody of whatever extreme metal genre this attempted to mimick. And here I must ask a question of utmost importance: How the fuck did the genre of death metal get from “Altars of Madness” to this?

Well, at least what passes as death metal these days. How did the collective consciousness of metalheads listening to the more extreme branch of this music accept this as “death metal”? And of the “progressive” variety to boot. The post-Bitcoin age is truly frightening. There is nothing progressive, nor death, nor metal about this straight off the conveyor belt product. Zero substance or power, devoid of any real emotion. A product of artificial intelligence fed with stereotyped data. Songs on this album seem like they’ve been sewn together by a computer program. Here’s the blast section. Here’s the clean section. Here’s the fuzzy chord section. Here’s the fucking sax. These songs neither sound pleasant, nor do they tell a story. They don’t have a personality. More faceless than the fucking Faceless. Each track consists of a mash-up of the most generic tropes you can find in metal, djent, -core, and whatever other genre this AI-generated fecal smoothie contains. I’m not against mixing various styles of music. I fucking love Surrounded by Silence by Design the Skyline. And the difference between this and that one uniformly-hated-by-everyone song is that the kids in the latter had passion and genuinely expressed themselves. In contrast, "Where Owls Know My Name" is a coldly calculated product. But fuck, are they bad at math.

While output of previous generations of run-of-the-mill “techdeath” bands such as Rings of Saturn could be described as “technically competent”, this cannot be. I am not convinced that this is music performed by human beings, sans the vocalist (which is weak and forgettable at best). And I do not mean this in a good way. Inhumanity could be descriptive of Cryptopsy, but in their case, the musicians are just extremely tight, while retaining the little flavor that always creeps into authentic performances. You could say that Cryptopsy is a licensed surgeon gone serial killer. Rivers of Nihil is an autistic (with all due respect to those with the condition) hunk of aluminium and plastic, straight outta DARPA – technologically impressive, uncanny, and not quite fit for any field task, because it failed at the prototype stage. When listening to this record, you’re not listening to a band. You’re listening to statistical charts of the record label executive. Paid goons at whatever studio this was “recorded” in just converted ghostwritten (by an AI) Guitar Pro files into instrumental tracks, then tracked the vocalist over the resulting mess. In 2012, the year on which “Dingir” by Rings of Saturn was released, there was no software for electric guitar programming. Now you have it, and here’s the result of its misuse.

There is no single hook, memorable track, or anything that would stick in my head. The AI they used doesn’t yet have an understanding on what creates timeless tracks. And I believe that neither does the band, nor does the record label. Metal is supposed to be based on riffs, and what the guitars do here is either Periphery demo session semi-random djent noodling, “jazz” wanking or post-rock chord progressions. Outside of stringed instruments, there’s a fucking sax which unpleasantly jizzes into your ear at random through the running time of the record. Sometimes, the vocalist decides to sing with this horrible autotuned vocoder effect. By now, you should get the picture of how annoying and incoherent all of this sounds. Opeth meets Deafheaven meets Cynic meets Meshuggah meets Devin fucking Townsend. While I am aware that the aforementioned combination would make djentsters climax from excitement, I wouldn’t recommend this record even to them. Any pleasure a die hard eight string+ guitar aficionado could experience listening to this album will be hindered by one of the worst mastering jobs I have ever had misfortune to hear. It seems like the AI did the production part, too. Metal is supposed to be loud, huh? Okay. 01010011 01001000 01001001 01010100. Mastering complete. Every single instrument is now compressed to hell and back. Or, no, compressed is a bad word. It’s like it put a fucking limiter on every single thing and cranked it all the way up to the point where it starts to distort, then set it a little lower. I hope Metal Blade puts all income from this album into AI research.

Long gone are the days of labels helping artists realize their true potential. The labels, as any other business in our capitalist society, really just want the money, so I wonder why the fuck won’t Brian Slagel start releasing mumble rap instead of diluting the already quite substanceless metal scene even further with liquid turds such as this and nu-Whitechapel. Better make Phil Bozeman grow dreadlocks and try to set him up to be the next Lil Pump. I’d rather listen to that than anything in the modern Metal Blade catalogue. And all in all, that’s a lot of words for what’s really just a shitty post-rock album with faux-growls, faux-blastbeats and a mallcore dressing. Avoid.

Bleh - 20%

Napalm_Satan, June 5th, 2018

This album wouldn't even be worth talking about were it not for the fact that the band has their priorities all wrong. The way to make boring music more interesting is to write more interesting parts - better riffs, more imaginative beats, perhaps throw a curve ball in the songwriting. This simple concept is one that is lost on Rivers of Nihil, because in their attempts to make their sub-standard, formulaic, modern extreme metal more interesting they've managed to turn what would otherwise be a not at all noteworthy mishmash of extreme metal styles into a stupid, annoying album.

At its core this album is what I just said: a really boring, below par mix of modern brutal death metal, technical death metal, deathcore and progressive metal to create a sound that falls under the vague 'extreme metal' banner. Everything about the music is impressive on the surface but leaves zero lasting impact. The triggered drum performance that's all too common is as rapid fire as a minigun and as precise as a sniper rifle, but it sounds mechanical and lifeless. The same can be said of the guitars, which play really uninteresting and unmemorable 'extreme' riffs, tedious mid-paced chugging (reaching a high point on the boredom scale during 'Subtle Change') or run of the mill tech death leads. Admittedly the leads are technical, but again they aren't really emotive at all and don't impact the listener beyond 'wow this must be hard to play'. The vocalist's harsh styles alternate between serviceable rasps and a somewhat barking growl; he's probably the standout performer simply because it's hard to make vocals sound mechanical and shallow like every other performance here. The production is pretty standard for this type of music too; it sounds compressed and overly loud and the instruments on the album are so polished that they sound synthetic. All of the edge to the guitar tone has been stripped and none of the instruments ever bleed together or sound organic at all.

If this was all that was wrong with the album then I wouldn't be writing about it; the above problems apply to a lot of average modern extreme metal albums. What really makes this album stand out as being bad is that Rivers of Nihil saw fit to 'improve' their sound by adding a lot of outside influences. Sometimes they draw from progressive rock and metal in the form of tranquil acoustic/keyboard driven sections and rather expressive, passionate leads that are of a much higher quality than the ones found in the metal portions of the songs. Other ideas they throw in are the gratuitous and aimless saxophone a few minutes into 'Home' or the bland attempts at electronica they'll dive into in an equally pointless fashion. Aside from being masturbatory and flashy rubbish, the problem with these sections is that they're jammed into the songs with no rhyme or reason; the band never really weave the metal and non-metal components of their sound together, and as a result one track feels like a mashup of two or three songs, and it makes the album an incoherent and uneven listen. The songwriting in general is pretty piss poor, with any one section of a track dragging about and not really going anywhere to the point where these bloated compositions get tiresome very quickly. You can't improve bland music by jamming in unrelated sections into the music in an attempt to have a progressive and open minded approach to songwriting. It throws off the pacing and consistency of the album and actually makes the music more unmemorable than it otherwise would have been; which is quite the feat given the base of lifeless 'extreme' metal the band were building off of to begin with.

Bleh. Don't bother.

Nice Try With the Window Dressing - 37%

Thumbman, June 5th, 2018

Rivers of Nihil represent a lot of what I hate in modern death metal. They are somewhat techy, somewhat brutal - even somewhat -coreish at times - and resolutely mechanical. The sound is compressed to shit, the bass drum is as clicky as a metronome and the whole thing comes off as terribly overproduced. Probably in an attempt to counteract the fact that they really don't have much of a personality of their own, they throw in heaps of window dressing. Some of it is actually quite awesome when looked at in isolation, but they don't make a lot of sense in the framework of their sound. Where Owls Know My Name (the fuck type of album title is that lol) is not so much a giant progressive leap forward, but an incredibly stale example of soulless modern death metal. While they have tried their damn hardest to spiff it up with all this non-metal padding, all they end up doing is turning a turd into a polished turd.

Rivers of Nihil don't really settle on one style of death metal, rather taking bits and pieces from BDM, tech death, deathcore and whatever is passing for progressive extreme metal these days. They amalgamate these styles in an aggressively modern, accessible and technically skilled way. Besides the riffs largely being meh, the problem here is the sound doesn't allow it to breath. The bass drum is ridiculously clicky, the guitar sounds mechanical (especially during the breakdown parts) and the lack of dynamic range is quite noticeable. As for the vocals they're fine and not that run of the mill for death metal. You get a more barky vocal and a more raspy one. They're fine I guess, it's hard to care either way. The short of it is this is overproduced, doesn't have much of an identity and is honestly not that interesting.

Rivers of Nihil probably realized that the metal portion of their sound was aggressively unremarkable and decided to add all these progressivisms to counteract this. A lot of these sections are cool on their own, but they are baffling in the context of the album. Like having this mechanical overproduced death metal and then out of nowhere this beautiful Pink Floyd section complete with a sax? Makes no goddamn sense at all. You also get some really emotive vaguely progish lead guitar, some atmospheric acoustic breaks and even some timid flirtations with electronic music. It's almost like they tried to mash two separate albums together hoped no one would notice. The only really egregious facet of their non-metal side is the clean vocals. Combine the worst of alternative rock and emo and you get a picture of what's going down. They're whiny, nasally and trying way too hard. They're not that far off from the shitty made-for-teens metalcore bands that started breaching the mainstream give or take a decade ago. So you have some cool padding and not so cool padding. What you don't have is non-metal elements integrated in any sort of coherent fashion.

So yeah, this blows pretty hard. The metal is so fucking mechanical and boring. I really wish more bands realized when you go this balls deep with compression the lack of dynamic sonic range actually makes ends up making it not seem as heavy when the more vicious parts do come crashing in. Even if some of it is cool, the window dressings probably make the album more frustrating because it results in a pretty harrowing blue-balling experience. For all the effort put into production, technical skill and a anything goes mentality to padding, Where Owls Know My Name is a really tame and irritating listen.

A tech and prog release that doesn't go djent. - 72%

MrMetalpants, April 5th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Metal Blade Records

This is what I wish the natural progression was from Meshuggah. Unfortunately, and as a whole, we were given djent. There are palpable influences of Meshuggah and even a more technical Gojira when it gets at it's most proggy (As well as some of the vocal stylings). Though not by much, this album is a little bit slower and less technical than their other albums. They already were almost not quite qualifying as "technical death metal" in my book with how simple their songs were, but this album even less so. It still gets somewhat tech in some spots, like on "Old Nothing" and parts of "Death is Real"

Like mentioned above, this is a less technical releases than previous efforts and this is most palpable in the guitar sections. The guitars have some interesting sections, but nothing very impressive. The rhythm section is pretty basic. The leads are akin to the prog/blues-influenced solos perform by mastodon, especially on "A Home". They're mostly extended whammy sections and some tremolo scales. The tone/effects on the guitar are very enjoyable throughout. That facet is both recognizable and pleasing to the ear and is It's best quality. I really enjoyed the bass due to it getting the limelight in quite a few jazz bits. Listen to it on "Silent Life" and "Subtle Change". The bass works best when it can slink around the prog/jazz sections released from the structure of a rhythm section. The drums, I feel, were either holding back or just couldn't keep up. Whenever they started living up to their genre tag on this website (technical death metal, at the moment), the drums would very quickly change it up to an easier to play drum beat. The drums still try far more than the guitar to be tech and usually succeed where the latter fails. Also of note is the best saxophone in recent memory because the band realizes it is a real instrument and then implements it. Think of The Faceless and Satyricon. They have used it but it but just as a gimmick.

The flow of the album keeps the pace going with a lot of transition both in writing and play style. I don't love all of it but there's a clear sense of direction. There isn't too many songs that haven't much meat, but "Hollow" sticks out to me as a low-point. The songwriting, as noted above, is leans heavily into the progressive camp with multiple excursions into jazz. They do play around a lot and experiment, like on "Where Owls Know My Name" and "Subtle Change (Including the Forest of Transition and Dissatisfaction Dance)". These sections are enjoyable on their own, but don't blend as well as the straight-out jazz sections. There are some exceptions, like on "Old Nothing" where it's more akin to their older, straightforward, albums.

Favorite tracks:
--"Old Nothing"
--"Subtle Change (Including the Forest of Transition and Dissatisfaction Dance)"
--"Death is Real"

Technical skill: 67% Originality: 79% Song writing: 83% Production: 75%

Rivers of Change - 25%

painfulloss, April 3rd, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, Metal Blade Records

In a relatively short amount of time, Reading, Pennsylvania's Rivers of Nihil have come a long way with their sound. Their early EPs were nothing I would consider as astounding, but their debut album The Conscious Seed of Light from 2013 blew me away when it came out, and I still listen to it all the time. Not re-inventing the wheel, but showing hints that they were trying to be different and subtle foreshadowing of the future.

2015's Monarchy took a step forward in terms of songwriting, while adding more of those haunting, ambient guitar sounds in the background that helps add tension to the songs. The last three songs on that album really lost the intensity, with a bit too much melody for my taste.

Now we have 2018's Where Owls Know My Name, an album that has pretty much been critically acclaimed and overwhelmingly loved everywhere you go on social media. Let's dive in...

My biggest gripe with the album is they quite often lose the plot of what they were all about - a technical death metal band with progressive touches here and there. Far too often, the band devolves into almost a metal version of Pink Floyd, while adding saxophone in numerous songs, and lastly some really dispassionate clean vocals that stick out like a sore thumb. When the band is playing Tech DM on songs like 'Old Nothing' or 'Death Is Real', they upped the ante of speed and brutality, while certainly moving towards a truly original sound in the genre. These parts are what keep me coming back for another spin.

Then you have the sections I refer to as 'kitchen sink metal' - parts that absolutely do not fit within the confines of the genre. Weak, hipster-ish saxophone solos and melodies nearly run this album into the ground. The thought to bring in a sax player as a guest truly boggles the mind. This isn't Dream Theater or Spiro Gyro. Being brave and having the guts to try new stuff is admirable, but there are limits to what Tech DM can withstand without coming off as pompous or trendy. The clean vocals are totally unnecessary, while being heavily processed. It will be interesting to see fan's reactions at shows when the band has to use backing tracks on their laptops to recreate the sax and clean vocals parts.

In the metal world, most often you see fans share similar views of an album. Kind of like a herd mentality - a mentality that goes against what metal was founded upon. My guess is the influence of mind-altering drugs would help me enjoy this album like so many others seem to, but, alas, those days are long over for this metalhead. Quite frankly, I'm incredibly surprised at the universal praise of the album. For me, this quite often falls off the rails of what the band had established, to take steps into areas that really should have been saved for a side project. With a side project, you could really explore these new sounds, without diluting the main sound the band had spent nearly a decade establishing.

There are so many great moments on the album that keep me coming back, yet the previously mentioned flaws definitely impair my ability to call this a 'great' album. Here's hoping for a return to form on album number four.

A journey of no significant impact or revelations - 55%

Necro44, April 3rd, 2018

In the 23 years I've spent on this planet, Where Owls Know My Name may be the most frustrating album I've ever encountered. Somewhere within this behemoth of a record, there lies an amazing journey that's equal parts harsh and melancholic; unfortunately, all of the external baggage caused by the inconsequential songwriting and sterile production robs it of its power. What's really sad is that, initially, all the ingredients to make this a masterpiece are in place. We're presented with incredible technical abilities from the musicians, lots of emotional potency in the performances, and an experience that's clearly striving to elevate the world of progressive death metal to something more ambitious and impactful. However, Where Owls Know My Name just goes in one ear and out the other and quickly becomes a dull grind akin to background noise.

The lack of dynamic range may actually be the biggest culprit here, especially as far as the metal sections go. There never seem to be any discernible climaxes or moments of catharsis, as the waves of guitar distortion and compressed production just wash over any sense of sonic variety. The best moments of variation and emotional weight come in the form of the album's quieter segments, such as the subtle keyboard-driven opener "Cancer/Moonspeak" or the beautiful saxophone break in "The Silent Life." But even these types of segments tend to be undercut by the generic riffing and djent-oriented chugs that kill both the pacing and ambition of the album. The entire first half of "Old Nothing" is crammed with intrusive blastbeats and dull deathcore riffs that ruin the album's sense of progression, as well as killing any potential atmosphere that could make it interesting. On top of that, quite a few moments just sound out of place and... well... ugly. "A Home" sounded great during the opening guitar chords, and the band didn't really need to throw a giant mess of triggered drum acrobatics all over it. Really, the majority of the metal in this experience is defined by strikingly similar chord progressions and tempos being glazed with gutless melodic noise that fills the treble end, while some chugs and mid tempo drum progressions try to fill in the cracks of the low end. That's basically the metal-oriented material in a nutshell, and it defines most of the tracklist. It's really easy to tune out of this album as it's playing, and very few moments really manage to gain one's attention back in a significant way.

Still, I'll give credit where it's due. Some moments still manage to be breathtaking, most notably that gorgeous acoustic intro to "Subtle Change." The song sounds like a real expedition, as the melodic bass traverses across the ample terrain of the rolling drums... there's a lot of 70s prog influence on this one, and it's one of the only songs in which the loud and quiet moments aren't too intrusive to each other. There's also a nice cleanly sung ballad intro that kicks off the title track, reminding me a lot of Paul Masvidal's vocals in the last few Cynic records. Finally, the last track "Capricorn/Agoratopia" cleverly brings the album full circle by using the intro track and giving it more fleshed-out instrumental accompaniment to drive the final mini-epic home. It's a decent way to conclude Where Owls Know My Name; I just wish the journey to get there was worth it.

It's not that the album comes off as misguided, but rather it sounds inconsequential and dull. If it was reduced to about 30-35 minutes and given an EP format, I might recommend it to fans of progressive death metal or even post metal. But in its current state, it happens to be arduous, overbearing, and boring all at the same time.

Abandoning the Norm - 85%

Cianan, March 25th, 2018

Rivers of Nihil are a band I’ve always gotten a lot of enjoyment from. Their blend of atmosphere mixed with pummeling death metal always sat well with me as it was blended skillfully with fantastic transitions that never felt jarring. 2018 has arrived and with it comes Rivers of Nihil’s third album “Where Owls Know My Name”. Does it continue the trend of subtle atmosphere mixed with pummeling death metal?

No, it does not. As you can tell from the score above it’s not a bad deviation at all. “Where Owls…” sees Rivers of Nihil switch from a more riff based death metal with splashes of progressive and atmospheric tendencies to a atmosphere focused, less riff based approach. At first the shift bothered me. I felt the album lacked any sort of heaviness and while building fantastic atmospheres and great use of progressiveness the lack of riffs made it feel weak and lacking. After diving in and really looking at things, I ended up really enjoying this record.

Comparisons can be made to Fallujah’s “The Flesh Prevails” and especially “Dreamless”. However this is far from a carbon copy of those records. Fallujah often evokes atmospheres of the cosmos, while Rivers of Nihil evoke a bit more of an organic atmosphere. The atmosphere is crafted extremely well and never comes off gimmicky creating a flow throughout the record that is seamless and refreshing.

Rivers of Nihil implement all sorts of tactics to make this work.The vocals are the same as they’ve been throughout Rivers of Nihil’s career a mix of growls and shrieks, but here we see some cleans sprinkled around to add to the atmosphere, such as on the seemingly Opeth influenced “Subtle Change” or the fantastic “Hollow” in which they are interjected perfectly. It’s a nice addition, doesn’t sound cheap or shitty and it works very well. I’ve always enjoyed the vocals on Rivers of Nihil’s records and thought that they added much to songs in the past to give them an edge, tracks such as “Sand Baptism” and “Rain Eater” on past albums would not have been as great as they were without Jake’s vocals, and here it is more of the same. I wouldn’t say this is a vocally driven album, but when the song writing changes the vocals also change to suit it. This helps build the atmosphere rather than pull you out.

The guitars and bass are the fucking meat here, and I absolutely love them. Up above I mentioned that at first the lack of riffs bothered me, but once I listened to the guitars and what they were doing I was floored. The sheer range of styles here needs to be noted. These guitars create both dizzying rhythms and entrancing rhythms. Tracks like “Hollow” and the title track contain soaring melodic lead work. There are some great solos here as well, “Death is Real” having the most memorable (though the closing track has a ripper as well), they fit well in the song structure and don’t suck you out of the atmosphere. The bass is fantastic, incredibly audible and can be heard throughout the album. The bass adds so much to this record and I absolutely loved it. On tracks like “Subtle Change”, “Death is Real”, and “Where Owls Know My Name” the bass absolutely kills it and sounds powerful as can be. Throughout the record the guitars and bass are woven fantastically, again creating the atmosphere and just driving these songs into new territory all the time.

The drums are of course another centerpiece for the sound. To keep up with the array of styles here and all the changes of pace, Jared Klein pounds that fucking kit into oblivion. There are blasting sections, constant changes in tempo, and holy fills galore batman. I’ve hard some complaints about the drum production, but I think it’s perfect. It doesn’t overshadow anything else, but is fully audible and none of that “trash can” drum sound (though on an album like this, that would be stupid anyway).

I also must speak of the atypical instruments. We’ve got keyboards, trumpets, cellos and saxophones. They are interwoven perfectly and add to the sound. I absolutely love the keys in “Subtle Change” and I love the jazz break in “The Silent Life” where the saxophone is first introduced. After that you are treated to varying sections throughout the album with different instruments added to the metal mix. The metal is never degraded to allow these instruments to shine however, as they are the perfect accent to the songs as written. Another huge plus to the songwriting ability of Rivers of Nihil.

Overall this is a fantastic record full of atypical moments, great atmosphere and skillful songwriting and instrumentation. The only knock I have on the album is, as a death metal fan I do prefer riff based metal and while I (obviously) enjoy atmospheric based stuff too, in death metal I enjoy riffs over atmosphere and the atmosphere here is the focal point of the song writing rather than the riffs. So “Where Owls Know My Name” is an album that will continue to get plays, but over time I can see it being a record that will fit better when I’m in a specific mood rather than something I want to listen to regularly. Despite this, I must say such a departure from their core sound is welcome and appreciated and I cannot wait for what comes next. This will be an exciting band in the future.