Tuesday 26 January 2016

“The Evolution of Death Metal”: An interview with Adam Biggs (Rivers of Nihil)

By: Richard Maw & Adam Biggs

Rivers of Nihil are one of the leading lights of the tech-death genre. With their second full length, “Monarchy”, (review) the band have made a brilliant addition to the genre and pushed the boundaries of it a little into the bargain. We caught up with bassist/vocalist Adam Biggs for this illuminating chat about the concept behind “Monarchy”, touring with the greats and what might be next for the band. His considered and thoughtful responses can be read below..."

SL). Firstly, congratulations on one of the best, maybe even THE best, death metal releases of 2015. It blew me away when I heard it and I have found myself returning to it again and again (along with Arkaik's “Lucid Dawn” and Eschaton's “Sentinel Apocalypse”).  As we are a music blog, any band recommendations for readers both here in the UK and around the world?
A few newer bands put out new records last year that I really enjoyed.  Native Construct, Abhorrent, Dark Sermon, and Wrvth to name a few. So everyone check those bands out if you haven’t already.
SL).  I would like to ask you about the seasonal concept of your records so far. Tell me, why the seasons?
The idea initially was just to make the subject matter in our songs a little more focused. In the EP’s we did as an unsigned band, the lyrical concepts seemed a little all over the map. In a band like ours where it’s not just one person writing ALL of the lyrics there almost has to be a guideline to make things feel like there’s some solidarity in the subject matter. To me, the choice of the seasonal concept seemed like a win, it’s very relatable and broad so we can write about a lot of things within it, but it also feels like it’s going somewhere. Also it can represent so much to do with life and death and the passage of time, which is what we’re really writing about here. Lastly, it’s sort of a very Pennsylvanian thing; we get a heavy dose of each season here, so it’s sort of what we know.

SL). In relation to “Monarchy” how is the season of summer represented (aside from in the awesome and evocative cover art)?

The story behind the record involves a tyrannical government system based on sun worship, and it takes place on a future version of Earth that has become a massive desert where the sun never sets. So in that way it ties those things in visually. But like I said, it all represents a step in time, a passage in time. So on an emotional level, the summer sort of represents adolescence and coming to grips with what the world you live in is really like, which is a concept we tried to communicate in the lyrics.
SL).  Can you tell us about any plans for future albums and how the seasonal concept with manifest going forward?
Like anything else, this all sort of takes shape during the writing process. I do have some plans for how that all works in, but I’ll probably not say anything for now, as it will most likely turn out differently than I imagine it now.
SL).  The vocals are a very strong part of “Monarchy” for me- the lyrics are well expressed and enunciated. Was this important to the band and if so for what reason?

Absolutely. For Jake, his vocal style was always sort of in flux early on, there was no focus at all on hearing what he was saying. The further we got into this whole thing, the more we started to care about lyrics and how the shape the emotion of the music, and if people can’t understand what he’s saying at all then it’s kind of pointless to care at all, right?

So starting with “The Conscious Seed of Light” we really focused on enunciation of the words in the studio. The rule for “Monarchy” was basically that if Grant couldn’t make out the words during a vocal take without looking at the lyrics sheet then we knew we had to do it again.

SL).  As noted in my review of the record, I know how much work goes into getting to the standard of musicianship showcased on “Monarchy” (particularly with regards to drums, being a drummer myself). Do you guys still practice a lot or is band rehearsal and gigging practice enough these days?

We really don’t practice that much at all as a group. We all live pretty far from one another now; Brody and I live in Reading, PA where the band started, Jon lives in Long Island, NY, our drummer lives about two hours west of us, and Jake lives in Arizona. So we get together when we can, and before we leave for tour and such, but I’d say a good 95% of practice responsibility in the band falls squarely in the individual. If you don’t practice enough on your own it’s going to show when we actually do get together, and no one wants to be that guy. 

SL).  Do you have any plans to play in the UK? We would love to see you over here at some point.

Unfortunately no as of now. We would love to make it over there someday soon. Just no solid plans as of yet.

SL).  How was it playing with some of the biggest death metal bands on the planet? Any highlights?

It’s always cool to share the stage with bands who have really built the genre from the ground up because you get to see how they operate. It’s always interesting to get small bits of what they’ve learned over the years, and see what they’ve incorporated that isn’t necessarily considered the “old school” standard (and what is). I think honestly the biggest highlight for me is just experiencing it  all; it’s something that just a few short years ago I didn’t really think I’d get to do, and it could really just be taken away at any time. 

SL).  What do you think the future holds for death metal? Bands seem to get more and more tech, faster and faster... where will it all end?!

Well it’ll take a step backwards for a while most likely. There are already a lot of bands sort of regressing into the whole “retro” death metal thing. Trying to breathe new life into that early 90’s Florida style of death metal. But someone will always figure out a way to go 5 bpm faster than the last guy, people are starting to have to get pretty inventive to pull it off but they still do it.

For me I think the real step forward is in adding dynamics. 10 years ago it was pretty tough to get any kind of emotional relief from death metal (other than anger of course), and I think a lot of bands are starting to incorporate some new styles, to bring out a broader emotional spectrum in the genre. Whether or not that pleases purists is a different topic I guess.
SL).  When I first started listening to death metal, circa 1993, the feeling at the time was that Death would never be matched and “Human” and “ITP” never bettered by any band playing within the genre. Do you think any band has improved upon or totally blown away those records in the tech-prog-death genre?

It’s hard to say, it’s all art and it’s supposed to be subjective right? “Human” and “Individual Thought Patterns” are amazing albums, and they’ll always be around, no one can take that away. Have people gone faster, heavier, or more technical? Yeah sure maybe, but it doesn’t really matter. I think what’s important is that each burgeoning generation of musicians has their own goals in mind, if someone really wants to one-up Death, they might do it, but it doesn’t matter at all because those Death records are still there, still influencing people. 

SL).  If you had to pick one style of metal from any region of the world, which would you pick as a favourite and why?

I really like my progressive metal. I grew up on bands like Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Yes, and didn’t really dive into metal until I was a little older, so seeing those two genres cross paths in such a big way with bands like Between the Buried and Me, Opeth, Cynic, and Devin Townsend Project (to name a few) is really inspiring to me. I also think that this type of metal can be really dynamic and expressive which is a quality I really admire when metal bands can pull it off successfully. 

SL).  Are there any bands you would love to play some shows with?

Fallujah comes to mind. We got a chance to play a few shows with them on a tour we did before they had to drop off due to vehicle issues which sucked. So we’ve always wanted to give that another shot. Also Beyond Creation and Black Crown Initiate. Those three and us is a tour package I’d really love to see happen at some point down the line. It’d be a lot of fun.
SL).  Was it a conscious decision to construct a flow throughout “Monarchy”- rage giving way to more progressive and dreamy soundscapes as the record progresses?
At first no, not really. But when everything was done being written and we had a chance to work on the track layout we saw an opportunity to make that sort of flow happen and we just went for it. I think the jury is still out on whether or not it’s an approach we’ll take again, but it was a good experiment, and something I was proud of us for doing. I think a lot of bands would have shied away from doing something like that for fear of making a lopsided album, but we just sort of went for it and I think it turned out alright.
SL).  Finally, tech-death/death metal is often judged to be a one dimensional genre without songs or feel/emotion. How would you say you have overcome the restrictions of the genre?
By just doing what we like. In this day and age, a person can get a hold of SO much music and be influenced by so many different things, we sort of try to incorporate as much of what we like into our music as we can because why the hell not? Being in a room writing music and having a bunch of unspoken restrictions about what to do and what not to do doesn’t sound like a lot fun to me.

The End

Band info: facebook | bandcamp