Review Summary: Up shit creek…
If we circle back three years ago, Rivers of Nihil’s Where Owls Know My Name
sent shockwaves through extreme metal’s repositories. Lauded as a behemoth of technical death metal, Owls…
brought a deal of hype to this Pennsylvanian group unseen in their previous records, Monarchy
or the debut, The Conscious Seed Of Light
. In many ways, Where Owls Know My Name
(for better or worse) was clearly lightning in a bottle...and a break away moment for a group on the cusp of turning heads—even the detractors couldn’t stop this little steamboat from entering the fjord. It’s unfortunate, mostly because Rivers of Nihil has squandered both potential and momentum with this brick-walled and insipid release with some of the year’s more aloof compositions.
It’s no wonder The Work
would become the band’s biggest blunder to date; even before the record hit shelves the band admits “We didn't really know if it was all going to connect together in any kind of logical or interesting way.” It shows. Even in the album’s more introductory sections (“The Tower (Theme from "The Work") the vocals are brooding, somewhat melancholic but overly directionless. Sweeping piano work simply exists
for the sake of it, but are admittedly inoffensive in nature. By far, the record’s more crippling features are built around The Work
’s lack of flow, general cohesive ineptitude and a terrible mixing that fails to cover up the numerous moments of lack-lustre musicianship.
“Dreaming Black Clockwork” is an unadulterated example of the complaints I’ve made above; while the guitar riffs provide a measure of bombast, the track itself sounds like the unwanted, yet progressive child from Meshuggah and Parkway Drive (a la Reverence
), before throwing basic sensibilities to the wind. Minimalistic sirens creep from the back of the track as if there’s a dichotomy of light and dark that’s supposed to work on merit alone. The effect is contrived, forced and bullies away the record’s first chance at constructing a feasible storyline for its listeners. I’ll admit the track’s first half does have some merit but meanders completely while attempting to be progressive and its dystopian tail is an atmosphere killer. Furthermore, “Wait” is pretentious, an attempt at contrasted kitschiness. In stripping away most of the band (and album’s) harsher tones, the seemingly art rock-meets-radio vibes steer The Work
in an ungodly juxtaposition of themes dressed up as “progressive” and a continuation of theme when in reality this dribble should’ve been reserved for those late-night live sessions at a dive bar somewhere. It simply doesn’t belong among anything The Work
has to offer, positive or not. It’s bewildering that this oversight didn’t find itself quashed in the album’s pre-production stages—but I digress.
“Clean” is similarly depressing, but is a comparable godsend when compared to tracks like “Wait” and “Focus” (the latter falling especially short in the riff department). It would seem that The Work
might have mapped out the right estuary to travel up if not for River Of Nihil’s need to squash every little nuance into such a small space. There's still an overabundance of the album’s hook, coupled with the track’s...it’s overkill, sounding more and more forced with every successive listen. What the track does do correctly is provide “The Void from Which No Sound Escapes” the correct lead-in. There are moments, as fleeting as they are, that do tip the scales ever so slightly for Rivers of Nihil. Despite my earlier sweeping observations, “Dreaming Black Clockwork” does have a strong initial framework, but it’s the album’s back half that some
of the band’s potential is measured. Moments of atmospheric clarity contrast well with the group’s more prominent, heavier moments, but the rhythm section is markedly less impressive than the melodic sections and the gentler reprieves that introduce the guitar solo. Personally, I could’ve done with more of that solo and less of that ‘out of the blue’ saxophone section.
In an attempt to bring the album’s storyline back into play, The Work
introduces “Tower 2” to space out the rest of the music. The thing is, just like “Wait”, it simply doesn’t work
in this setting; sticking out like a snowman on a sunny beach—and the larger grandiosity of River Of Nihil’s concept misses far more than they hit. Perhaps if The Work
had been released as a double album and allowed some of their ideas more time to flesh out, Rivers Of Nihil’s fourth album would have finally realised the potential they offered with their Where Owls Know My Name
release. Instead, their 2021 effort is a conundrum of sorts and filled with more twists and turns than the band could actually manage. Maybe this tributary was meant to shoot off in a different direction, or the inlet wasn’t mapped properly? Whichever it was, The Work
is not as finished as Rivers Of Nihil would suggest.