Band: Rivers of Nihil
Album: Where Owls Know My Name
Around the time of March 2018, I had given up hope on music. Nothing I heard was new or exciting, nothing was rejuvenating my interest. Wherever I looked, new bands ceased to intellectually stimulate me, and musicianship began to stagnate. I was looking for something, anything that would bring about a new style, a new feeling in music that had been untouched before. That’s when I heard Rivers of Nihil’s album, “Where Owls Know My Name.” As soon as this record came out, I got a CD of it and for seven straight months, that record did not leave my car.
Rivers of Nihil have always been a strong band. Seeing them in 2015, they had me hooked on their albums “The Conscious Seed of Light” and “Monarchy.” I remember burning a CD of “Monarchy” and bringing it to my driving test for good luck. Slowly, the band began to develop their own unique sound; with each release, there were new aspects previously untouched and old styles that were strengthened. “Where Owls Know My Name” is a combination of heavy, heartening, and saxy. Saxophone in Metal isn’t as common as one would think, but the blending of jazz and melodic death metal on their newest release is something that sets the bar high for all future releases from other bands. There’s an expectation from bands now; what’ll be new? Will they try to pull off a saxophone?
“Cancer/Moonspeak” opens the album, a gentle chord with indistinguishable dialogue in the far-background. The first words uttered on the album, “Fear,” followed by a dissonant chord, immediately the stage is set for the depth that this album has. Read between the lines, feel the autumn breeze on your skin, and let the saxophone do the talking. “The Silent Life” rushes in, banging on your eardrums to wake up and pay attention. Every instrument is mixed richly: the bass wails over the guitars, the chords are dissonant and distant, and the vocals blend in right between it all. The song comes to a collective calm, showing off the new clarity the band has found. There’s jazz-influence heavily trickled between this album, and its implementation is done exquisitely.
“A Home,” one of the leading singles of the album, is unbelievable. The balance between jazzy paradiddles, clean chordal sections, and atmospheric space toppled with dynamic technical death metal that beats your mind into the ground is breathtaking. The lyrics tell the story of the last man made on Earth turned immortal; “A Home” puts this on display as the man cannot connect with himself, let alone anyone else. When you’re left with yourself, what else can you do but contemplate? The ideas of loss and the changing of the seasons flow through the lyrics, and into the next song.
“Old Nothing” is my second favorite track off the record. The syncing of every instrument with the mind-shattering bass drums took my breath away the first time I heard it. It’s crushingly heavy without pulling out overused schticks; no breakdowns, no guttural vocals or chuggy guitars: pure speed and aggressive vocal deliveries. The influence of melody still seeps into aspects of the song, which makes it more impressive. The change from lightning-speed double bass to ethereal guitar, then the combination of both, leaves the listener’s jaw on the floor, never to be picked back up.
“Subtle Changes” has absolutely none of that. The song starts soft, then heavy, then soft, then slices through the air with screaming and diminished keys to creep eerily into the soul. Every change in this song comes fluidly, but not subtly. Each delivery is a punch to the chin, unanticipated each time. From clean vocals, to a jazzy pattern in what appears to be 21/8, then to a Deep Purple-esque keyboard solo, slowly descending the diminished scale and into a bluesy-as-all-hell guitar solo, then back to gut-punching heaviness.
My personal favorite track is the self-titled “Where Owls Know My Name.” It’s clean, it’s dynamic, and the harmonies are an earworm. I found myself singing in the shower, in the Dunkin Donuts line, in bed – the melody wouldn’t leave. The aggressive layers add a distinguishing feeling that separates it from the album’s other songs. It’s a passionate aggression, making one feel the poetry instilled within it. “Capricorn / Agoratopia” is the final song that wraps the album up. Repeating the intro, utilizing each new goodie they expressed in previous tracks, it all comes to a point at the very end. Hard-hitting cymbals, melancholic keys, and screams that pierce the skin with pain; everything about the ending of “Where Owls Knows My Name” expresses the anguish of the man we’ve journeyed with throughout the album.
“Where Owls Know My Name” has been added to my all-time favorite list. It’s new, it’s exciting, and the members of the band aren’t afraid to try new things. Everything they’ve experimented with has been golden and has led them to absolute success. Seeing them at “Metal and Hardcore Fest” in Worcester, the only complain heard about them was that their set was too short. Everyone who listens to this band will have something to fall in love with. Whether it’s the softer side, the heavier side, or the overall intellectual stimulation when thinking about the development of this album, it’s awe-inspiring, and brought my love for music back.
FFO: Allegaeon, Obscura