Rivers of Nihil
Where Owls Know My Name


5.0
classic

Review

by SomeGuyDude USER (35 Reviews)
March 16th, 2018 | 1034 replies


Release Date: 2018 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A genuine classic.

When I first started Where Owls No My Name, I was convinced Spotify had made an error of some kind. Opening track Cancer / Moonspeak is a soft, moody little number that wouldn't seem out of place on a post-rock album. There's a quiet bassline with a keyboard melody (which my friend informs me is a DX7 e-piano) with some strings while spoken words go on in the background, far from the usual kind of intro that a death metal album would make. I was immediately intrigued. Monarchy certainly set a different aesthetic than most of its kind, but what did Rivers of Nihil have up their sleeve this time"

As it turns out, quite a lot.

Originality is tough in music, and especially so in extreme metal. So many genres have cross-pollinated over the years that trying to put a unique spin on music usually ends up with going so far off the reservation that coherency can be lost. It's a shame that "progressive" has become a kind of cliche-ridden sound of its own, because my temptation is to call Owls... a progressive death metal album. Not in the sense that it uses "prog" tropes, but because it genuinely sounds like a forward step in terms of what can be done with death metal.

I'm not often a fan of likening bands to other bands, because I think unless it's an intentional throwback or copycat it does a disservice, but the first thing that comes to mind is Fallujah by way of Maudlin of the Well and I do not say this lightly. Owls... has an intensity to it that is organically broken up with occasional clean or melodic sections that never sound out of place, and they even incorporate a saxophone into a death metal album that, some-***ing-how, never comes across as hokey or gimmicky.

All right, let's dig in a bit. The musicianship is as tight as any metal release you're likely to his this year or any other year. Every band member is on top of their game. The guitars layer beautifully, with chunky riffs both alternating and occasionally layering beneath more melodic lines. The rhythm section pounds along, with a bass guitar that fleshes out instead of simply sitting at the root notes, even getting plenty of room to shine on its own (which I appreciate) and a drummer that can handle blistering double bass and blast beats right alongsize jazzier sections. All the while we have a vocalist who manages to be perfectly understandable, by death metal standards anyway, without ever losing that sense of intensity and roughness.

A quick side note on guitar solos. I'm not a fan of them in most extreme metal. They work in power metal and rock, but metal and in particular death metal tends to set a harsh aesthetic that is interrupted by a guitar suddenly going all weedly-wee on the high strings. Rivers of Nihil doesn't exactly rip into Dragonforce solos, but the guitar does periodically start to shred, however in each instance it's a growth of the song rather than feeling like a moment to show off.

Now, one of the best things in metal is that feeling of not knowing what to expect next. Sometimes it's less enjoyable if it feels like the band doesn't have a grip on what they're doing and keep taking left turns to the mood, but once again Rivers of Nihil succeeds by having each song feel like a distinct entity while never losing the tone of the album as a whole. After the first three "proper" songs (after the intro), the appropriately named Subtle Change comes in with a melodic and prog-rock inspired beginning, blossoming into a behemoth of a track that puts that saxophone front and center and sounds just goddamn glorious with it, acoustic guitars and jazzy drums forming a foundation and building to an explosion of keyboards and heavy riffs.

At this point you might think you've heard all of Rivers of Nihil's arsenal, and you would be all wrong and a bag of chips. The very next track, Terrestria III, starts off with an electronic bassline with a faint spoken conversation deep in the background and echoed piano chords, and then the guitars and drums kick in to an apocalyptic degree, like the heaviest song Godflesh ever made. If your breath doesn't catch in your chest I'm going to assume it's only because you went deaf from cranking the volume earlier in the album.

This may sound a bit silly, but I tend to have high standards for title tracks. If you're going to title a song after the name of the album (or, conversely, use a song's title for the whole album), then that song had better be the damn highlight of the entire thing. Well wouldn't you know it, Rivers of Nihil nails it once more. The title track is like a revue of all the best bits of the rest of the album. Heavy riffs, clean vocals mixed with growls, acoustic bits, that cot dang saxophone again, guitar soloing, the works. After that, a similarly epic closing track and we can finally take a rest to let it all sink in.

No album is 100% without faults, no matter how revered, and I admit the production on Owls... has a touch more of an artificial feel than I'd like. This is most noticeable in the drums, with the kick having a slight "plastic" sound to it. It's a minor gripe, but when dealing with an album that I'm reviewing a 5, I'd be remiss not to point out those tiny faults.

The word "classic" gets tossed around a lot, but I honestly can't think of a better word for Where Owls Know My Name. From front to back and top to bottom, this album is both firmly rooted in death metal with a progressive bend while standing alone atop the mountain. It's equally headbang heavy and enthralling, music to get in the mosh pit and simply sit in awe of. This is required listening, because there's nothing else quite like it.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
StickFeit
March 16th 2018


1021 Comments


THOSE FUCKING DRUMS

Astral Abortis
March 16th 2018


6745 Comments


Worst drums of the year to date.
Also worst album of the year to date.

InFlamesWeThrash666
March 16th 2018


8889 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Is proggy/djun djun stuff the new trend in metal now?

Digging: Idle Hands (USA-OR) - Mana

Astral Abortis
March 16th 2018


6745 Comments


Probably. People like to junjun and they like to play false prog

SomeGuyDude
March 16th 2018


374 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

It's cool. Some people are too blockheaded to accept anything that's not omg trve, but that's why some move forward and some are stuck in place.

Toondude10
March 16th 2018


13844 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

this is awesome so far

Digging: Rammstein - Rammstein

TundraL5Z
March 16th 2018


2705 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Dayum, rare you see a 5 review

Astral Abortis
March 16th 2018


6745 Comments


", but that's why some move forward and some are stuck in place."

I resent the idea that this slapdash effort patchwork genres constitutes "moving forward" when bands in both black metal and death metal had much cleaner, deeper takes on this sounds over twenty years ago. This isn't moving forward at all. This album is way behind the times and barely scratches the surface of anything progressive, avant-garde, or jazz-based.

Toondude10
March 16th 2018


13844 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I feel like you're taking the term "progressive metal" a bit too literally

TundraL5Z
March 16th 2018


2705 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Rules so far

JWT155
March 16th 2018


14381 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Hmmm I'll have to check this out.

InFlamesWeThrash666
March 16th 2018


8889 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

This is good but i think it would be better if it had actual riffs and less jun jun chugs...A Home,Subtle Change,Hollow and t/t are solid tunes

Astral Abortis
March 16th 2018


6745 Comments


This album would be a looooot better without all the juns. It needs actual riffs. All the generic genre-breaks aren't actually terrible, and they'd be complemented a lot better by actual riffs. But as I said, bands have done this exact thing a thousand times better decades ago. I mean just listen to Dead Gallery by Wayd for the meanest take on progressive death metal and jazz fusion working in perfect harmony.

SomeGuyDude
March 16th 2018


374 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

"I feel like you're taking the term "progressive metal" a bit too literally"



I explained it *literally* in the review how I was using it. I even said, specifically, that I wasn't talking about "prog" tropes.

MarsKid
Contributing Reviewer
March 16th 2018


8943 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Fresh dweedles



Will jam

Astral Abortis
March 16th 2018


6745 Comments


I believe he was talking to me when making that comment.

And I was referring to the way you used the term in the review when making my comments.

So ToonDude is the only one taking the term the wrong way here.

parksungjoon
March 16th 2018


9399 Comments


"Some people are too blockheaded to accept anything that's not omg trve"

yea sure thats whats going on here

JWT155
March 16th 2018


14381 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Meh I enjoyed this. sure it could've brought more of the riffs but I kinda liked the proggy into/outros that seemed very pink floydish to me.

BlackwaterPork
March 16th 2018


4390 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah this is pretty tasty

JWT155
March 16th 2018


14381 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I really dig the atmosphere, only listened through this once but I liked it.



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