Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2023
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Privacy Policy

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