Tech Death Thursday: Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name


Rivers of Nihil are back with their third album, and I have many things to say about it. Let’s dive into some sadboi tech!

But first, your weekly tech support:

  • In case you missed it, Atheist is recording a new album, due out sometime this year on Agonia Records. Keep an eye out for that if you like progressive death metal and believe in no gods.
  • In case you missed it, Monotheist put out a new song last week, album due on March 16th through Prosthetic. Keep an eye out for that if you like brutalish death metal and believe in exactly one god.
  • Alkaloid released “Azagthoth,” the first single from their upcoming album, Liquid Anatomy. My biggest fear with this was that it would sound like more Malkuth Grimoire– not that that would be bad, but it would be a bit disappointing for a band filled with such forward-thinking composers. Fortunately, it sounds like nothing from their debut, and I am eagerly awaiting its May 18th release. Keep an eye out for that if you like weird death metal and believe in a small pantheon of elder gods.
  • Extremely Canadian prog death maestros Æpoch have a teaser up for their new album, out on April 13th. I imagine we’ll be hearing a full song from them sometime in the near future. Keep an eye out for that if… I got nothing, sorry.

Where Owls Know My Name is going to be a game-changer.

It’s not entirely surprising; Rivers of Nihil showed a massive propensity for growth between The Conscious Seed of Light and Monarchy. They had the sound of a band that wouldn’t be content repeating themselves, and given the seasonal themes of each album, it follows that their third effort would have a similar level of change. What is surprising is just how big of a leap they made in sound between Monarchy and Owls. There are a ton of unexpected risks taken here, each one making the album that much more engrossing.

The very first notes of “Cancer/Moonspeak” say this is going to be a very different album, opening with a melancholy Rhodes piano and deep, sorrowful, flanger-drenched singing. A layer of synth strings comes in over the top, and a swell of distortion brings us to “The Silent Life.” It drives forward with a marching guitar riff underscored by characteristically punishing drums and accompanying atmospheric guitar melodies, all punctuated by tense chords. The band’s signature low-tuned riffing kicks in not too long thereafter, but it’s more reserved, keeping in line with the darker tone of this album. About halfway through, the band breaks away for a clean guitar lead and saxophone solo. I can see some of you shaking your heads already, but this is some of the smoothest, most fluid incorporation of saxophone into metal I’ve heard. It flows neatly into a gorgeous guitar solo, which rounds into a monstrously heavy riff that brings the saxophone back screaming.

This isn’t the only time we hear sax on this album, nor is it the only non-traditional metal instrumentation used. Another saxophone lead makes an appearance on the title track, this time harmonizing with the guitar, and it’s once again surprisingly natural-sounding. Aside from the aforementioned Rhodes piano used in the intro, we get a Hammond organ solo on “Subtle Change” over some mighty groovy prog riffing, and “Terrestria III: Whither” couples menacing synthwave (à la Perturbator) with muted trumpet. We’re also treated to more clean singing, occasionally resembling Andy Thomas of Black Crown Initiate, other times taking the softer approach that we heard at the start. Again, these are all risks the band didn’t have to take- they could have delivered a perfectly suitable followup with Monarchy II– but they all pay off, elevating Owls far past the point of simply being “good.”

I haven’t been following the concept laid forth by Rivers of Nihil’s first two albums, but I do know that the narrative takes a backseat to more emotional lyrics this time, touching on loss and an increasing awareness of mortality. It’s not something I’d normally touch on, but the lyrics feel like an essential part of the package here. Sorrow is hard to convey lyrically without being cheesy or coming off as whiny, but the lyric writing proves to be just as potent as the musicianship. From the words to the songs to the artwork, this is a very complete album.

Don’t think that means it’s a one-trick pony, though. It’s focused, yes, but the breadth of ideas they use to explore their theme is impressive. The difference between “The Silent Life” and “A Home” should illustrate that, the former with its slow, somber feeling and the latter built on driving guitar and some insane drums. “Old Nothing” and “Capricorn/Agoratopia” bear the closest resemblance to Monarchy, and “Death Is Real” presents an updated take on the unique sound of Conscious Seed. The title track might be the most separated from their old sound, blending chill prog and post-metal with beefy death metal riffing. At any given moment, something new and compelling is happening. It’s a captivating listen from start to finish.

Where Owls Know My Name feels like a culmination of sorts, like the past few years of progressive death metal have been leading up to it. Much in the way Fallujah’s The Flesh Prevails started a wave of atmospheric death metal, I imagine we’re going to see a lot of acts taking on this style of ponderous, introspective tech. It’s a landmark album not only for Rivers of Nihil, but the genre as a whole. Where Owls Know My Name is out on March 16th through Metal Blade, and you can follow Rivers of Nihil on Facebook for updates. That’s all for this week, and until next time,

Stay Tech

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