Wednesday, 28 March 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Rivers of Nihil, “Where Owls Know My Name”

By: Richard Maw

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 16/03/2018
Label: Metal Blade Records

“…devastating, melodic, labyrinthine and jam packed with ideas. “Where Owls Know My Name” will go down as a classic genre expanding album and one giant leap forward in  extreme metal

“Where Owls Know My Name” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. Cancer/Moonspeak
2. The Silent Life
3. A Home
4. Old Nothing
5. Subtle Change
6. Terrestria III
7. Hollow
8. Death is Real
9. Where Owls Know My Name
10. Capricorn/Agoratopia

The Review:

Following 2015's “Monarchy” was always going to be a mammoth undertaking- as Rivers of Nihil's last record really was superb. They have managed it by taking not only a massive leap forward but also a sidestep of sorts. Think of the difference between “Master of Puppets” and “...And Justice For All” and you have an idea of the differences.

Indeed, this record can perhaps be accurately described as avant garde- in the same way that Celtic Frost'sInto The Pandemonium” was. After the atmospheric scene setting intro of “Cancer/Moonspeak” we are straight into “The Silent Life” which is devastating, melodic, labyrinthine and jam packed with ideas. To be fair, that track description could sum up the whole record. This is not really like anything else I have heard in the extreme metal genre. If “Monarchy” was largely identifiable as tech-death, this is something else entirely.

To be absolutely clear, the textures and sounds on this album are not to be found on many records at this end of the musical spectrum. Saxophone, clean guitars, synths, jazzy drums and noodling bass all combine to make this a fascinating listen. If Cannibal Corpse and Obituary represent two sides of the same death metal coin, then perhaps Rivers of Nihil are akin to something like Bitcoin.

As the record progresses, things get even more progressive; the breadth of sounds and arrangements here are quite dazzling and highly unusual. Picking tracks as highlights is almost impossible being as the record exists as a total piece. It is uniformly consistent in that it is experimental and progressive, it is not in any way samey or boring. The likes of “A Home and Old Nothing” are all of the epithets used so far. There are pulverising bass drums, there are blasting sections of ferocious speed. There are also jazz fusion type breakdowns and an otherworldly atmosphere throughout.

The sounds and approach of “Subtle Change (Including The Forest of Transition)” is a crazily good example of technical performance and forward thinking arrangements coupled with a state of the art production. I guess Mastodon (at their best) could be used as a reference point along with black metal like atmosphere and a harnessing of technology (both in production and instrumentation) that has not always been seen as a good thing in the world of metal.

“Terrestria III: Wither” could soundtrack a 2000AD/Judge Dredd film and contains not a trace of death metal in its sound or scope. The second half of the album pushes forward just as much as the first with “Hollow” or “Death Is Real” being great examples of the record's depth and overall approach (fantastic bass work on the latter) and the title track being an Opeth-like example of prog rock by a band who are absolutely expanding the boundaries of their own playing and also the genre(s) they are operating in.

By the time of “Capricorn/Agoratopia!, I was left wondering (on first listen) what to make of it all. It's hard to take it all in. There is so much going on that the record is very hard to assess on the first couple of listens. I have no idea how much I will listen to this album going forward- it may be all the time, it may be every once in a while. However, one thing is for sure: it will go down as a classic genre expanding album. It's like nothing else I have heard and will deserve the plaudits heaped upon it. One giant leap forward for extreme metal has occurred.

“Where Owls Know My Name” is available here

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