Review Summary: A waning sun with just enough bite left to stay above the horizon.
As an album, Rivers of Nihil’s sophomore record Monarchy
executes as a bit of a slow build. It’s not exactly one in a stylistic sense, with the sounds and themes progressively building up to a huge climax, but of quality. Monarchy
feels like the band layered each track one after another from worst to best across its runtime, oddly enough. After an atmospheric intro that admirably sets up a strong tone, the early run of tracks are suspiciously by the numbers. Hell, even the very first riff is lacking in edge. It’s not that any are particularly bad, they just offer up ideas already touched on by many other modern tech/prog death metal bands (Job For A Cowboy’s Sun Eater
is clearly an influence in a few ways). The marginally stale and deathcore-ish vocal performance doesn’t really add much flavor either. Each song is instrumentally competent and doesn’t usually lack for energy. However, it lacks places to really latch onto until the back half of Monarchy
rolls around. Granted, the bass noodling in “Sand Baptism” is memorable, as is the acoustic opening to “Dehydrate”, but it does shine a light on certain consistency issues when you realize that the best tracks are at the very end, forcing the listener to wade through the standard tracks to get to the above average ones.
The title track is the best place to point to as the moment Rivers of Nihil kick into overdrive. It’s where the band takes a step back to let their progressive ambitions take hold and let some more measured songwriting into the mix. In particular, the final three tracks are pure metallic powerhouses. “Terrestria II: Thrive” is a gorgeous instrumental continuation of the opener from their debut, and the centerpiece of the trio, “Circles in the Sky”, is possibly their finest track to date by indulging every side of the band (whether melody, prog, or furious death metal). “Suntold” falls a bit short in its closing moments due a vaguely tacked on ambient outro, but the rest of the track is pure gold. In essence, too many early sluggish songs drag the album below the standard set by their powerful debut, before the backyard highlights knock the quality back up. It’s not wrong to say that the band lacked a certain identity on their debut, but its ability to creatively cherry pick from various aspects of death metal, and extreme metal in general, made it stand out to a certain degree. Monarchy
draws too narrowly from tech and prog alone, and comes off as a bit stale. However, despite these drawbacks, there’s enough here to please fans of the aforementioned styles and a bit to impress people looking for something more.