2015’s ‘Monarchy’ was an ambitious effort, solid without ever really threatening to blow your mind in the way you suspected Rivers of Nihil hoped it would.
2018 sees the release of ‘Where Owls Know My Name’ and signals a sizeable progession, in more ways than one, from the Pennsylvanians.
The soft synths and hushed vocals of “Cancer/Moonspeak” set the tone that there will be more to offer this time around and so it proves through the course of the album.
“The Silent Life” starts as if it means serious business, swiftly breaking down to a sparse, chugged verse riff over busy bass drums.
It’s instantly catchy and the ambient melody which persists throughout, as the heavy vocals enter and the drums leap between half-time and blasts, brings to mind some of Fallujah’s recent work.
In a brave statement of intent, the song changes tack again with a middle section featuring a harmonious saxophone solo.
A very tasteful guitar solo follows before everything gets heavy again and a second sax solo, far more aggressive than the first, engages with the sheer bravado of such a move. It could have been a train-wreck but it’s done well and works well in the context of the song.
After such a start, it’s possible the rest of the album might not be able to live up to the standard set. Indeed, “A Home” is a much more straightforward affair, mostly fast and downtuned hinting at a Meshuggah influence.
They relent briefly in sections, affording the heavier sections to keep their impact and not become monotonous while a quieter segment of singing has a similar effect to the saxophone solo of the preceeding song.
The bass drums sit very proud in the mix and, without the quieter sections, it would be easy to imagine them getting quite overwhelming after a while, despite the skill and precision of Jared Klein’s playing.
There are traces of Fallujah again throughout “Old Nothing”, easily the most aggressive and intense song yet.
Driven by unrelenting bass drums and ferocious blasts, it’s hard not to be impressed with they way move between sections and speeds in a seamless manner.
Softening up for the solo only serves to emphasise the heft when it ramps back up, culminating in the coda of “Commence thy spirit” as the song fades out.
“Subtle Change” isn’t as subtle as the title suggests, with double-tracked vocals, screamed and sung, signalling a major deviation from what has preceded.
Moving frequently from heavy to quiet sections and several areas inbetween, this song is a little disjointed and that’s even before the Hammond organ solo. Immediately, it’s back into a heavy section and those loud, loud bass drums.
Changing direction again, another breakdown is accompanied by the return of the saxophone and a solo owing more than a little to Wayne Shorter’s appearance on “Aja”.
The playing is superb throughout, it must be said, even if this one doesn’t really hold together as a song when it gets heavy yet again.
In another unexpected twist, a cold synth-bass intro ushers in the industrial feel of “Terrestria III”, an instrumental interlude. “Hollow” which follows, is almost mundane by comparison, largely staying loud once the gentle intro has been shoved aside.
“Death is Real” doesn’t take long to erupt into a flurry of blasts and downtuned riffing. Bassist Adam Biggs’ backing vocals provide the variety this time, adding some flavour on top of Jake Dieffenbach’s fairly monotone delivery. There’s a hearty djent influece throughout before the versatile Biggs adds some tasteful bass towards the end.
The title track starts with clean guitars and harmonised sung vocals. Mercifully, even when the screamed vocals enter the double bass drummng is largely absent. Instead, the song maintains a sense of melancholy during the louder parts, punctuated by more sax and tasteful organ sections and a well executed bass solo.
For a long time, closing track “Capricorn/Agoratopia” is rather subdued, slowly building up intensity into a really elegant and concise guitar solo.
There’s a contemplative air to the drawn-out conclusion of the album as guitars and saxophone interweave skilfully, reinforcing the sense of loss which make up much of the lyrical content.
This is an audacious effort and takes a few listens to really absorb. At times, it feels like they tried a little to hard but you can’t help but admire their ambition to push towards something new.
The bass drums are maybe a smidge too loud throughout and take away a little, but there is much to enjoy. Bold use of uncommon instrumentation and never knowing what to expect next make for an engaging and refreshing listening experience.
Thematically, this is the third of four parts and, if they can continue to progress as they have, the next album will definitely be something special.
3.8 / 5 – Justin Maloney ::: 12/06/18