Review Summary: Can you teach a new dog old tricks?
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, death metal was a very different genre. It was complex, brutal, and as extreme as music could get with any type of structure intact. But there was another strange aspect of the genre; bands such as Morbid Angel, Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse, and Deicide managed to retain the traditional brutality needed for crafting such an abomination, but also made their music… memorable. Plenty of death metal fans will be able to recall the main riff from a song such as “Chapel of Ghouls” or “Infecting the Crypts”, and even non-metal fans might be able to remember the infamous Ace Ventura scene where Jim Carrey stagedives during a Cannibal Corpse set. Since the early-to-mid 2000’s, death metal has certainly become more advanced, technical, and progressive, but at a price. Few bands can inject the lively, energetic feel of old school death metal, and thus resort to making their music as complex as possible. As a result, few, if any new death metal bands are able to create a lasting impact with their music, and end up committing the worst crime in any form of music: Boring the listener. In a world where almost anything can be passed off as a good riff, there seems to be no hope for the next generation of death metal.
But even rarer is the event where a newer death metal band has both good songwriting skills, and is capable of showcasing their worth on a debut. And every once in a while, there is a band that comes around and manages to accomplish such a feat. Enter Pennsylvania newcomers Rivers of Nihil. Amongst an ocean of mundane, unoriginal technical death metal, Rivers of Nihil deliver an album that serves as both a tribute to classic death metal bands and a collection of the best elements from the modern scene.
The first thing that really stands out is the production. Instead of going for the raw, primitive sound of early death metal records or the crystal clear production of new tech-death albums, they opted with a mix of both, being both clear and well-mixed, but at the same time retaining the old school grittiness of traditional death metal, a theme that reoccurs throughout most of the album. Instrumentally is where the band shines most, with a combo of Morbid Angel-ish death metal riffs, technical leads, and impressive soloing. The drums and bass provide a stable back-up for the guitars, never venturing into dangerous or obnoxious territory and maintaining a strong presence throughout the record.
As for the vocals, for better or worse, you’ve probably heard it all before. The growls bear some resemblance to a young David Vincent or a poor man’s Nergal, which is definitely a pro. Surprisingly, the lyrics are interesting and thoughtful instead of pure gore or Satanism, which helps bring a little bit of depth to the music. Some standout tracks include “Birth of the Omnisavior”, “Mechanical Trees”, “Human Adaptation, and the fantastic “Rain Eater”.
While it may disappoint some that this album is essentially just a massive melting pot for death metal, both old and new, it comes off to others, including myself, as a new hope for the future of extreme metal. If Rivers of Nihil is able to create such a fantastic debut, who knows where the band will be able to go with future releases? With such a young lineup and copious amount of musical talent, there’s no telling what these guys can do.