The Pennsylvanian metal outfit, RIVERS OF NIHIL, released nothing short of a curveball full-length “Where Owls Know My Name” in 2018. It was a visceral album that did not fit neatly into a box, featuring extremely brutal metal assaults as well as delicate jazz moments. The way it transcended all labels usually applied to a metal band was strongly reminiscent of the Australian six-piece, NE OBLIVISCARIS. Needless to say, as a devoted fan of all things eclectic and having been blissfully unaware of the band up to that point, the album converted me instantly. Thus, upon hearing the news about the band’s upcoming studio album “The Work,” due out on September 24th, 2021, via Metal Blade Records, I was more than ready to prick my ears.
For a first preview of the album, the band released the new single “Clean” with a music video directed by Mike Truehart. The song sets in motion with a sludgy, almost post-metal-like mood reminiscent of CULT OF LUNA and the like. Halfway through the song, the guitars gear up the prog, while the solo section with its lyrical legatos is pure candy to my ears. Towards the end of the song, things get a bit more brutal with some nice blast-beats and double-kicked drum-rolls. Essentially, the song asserts that RIVERS OF NIHIL is still about covering a staggering sonic range from the extremely heavy and brutal to the ethereally beautiful.
Further teasing the fans, the band also released a music video for the song, “Focus,” ahead of the album release. The video was directed by the seasoned, metal-oriented music video auteur, David Brodsky, although the horror-themed scenes, for me, rather triggered subtle flashbacks of the music video for the 1996 breakbeat classic, “Breathe,” by THE PRODIGY. Then again, the Liam Howlett-fronted raver posse rocked harder in their prime than some metal acts do now. Here, the new RIVERS OF NIHIL song is layered with a good pinch of the numetal aesthetics of the late 1990s. Befittingly, the song is a meditation on the writer’s – and possibly the listener’s – relationship with drugs. When KORN laid out the blueprint for numetal back in 1994, the concept was practically a mishmash of hip-hop, metal, funk – and meth. These Pennsylvanians update the numetal vibe quite a bit by making it sound extremely cold and harsh, as though implicating that street drugs aren’t perhaps what they used to be.
These hors d’oeuvres probably had all fans hyped up for the actual album release and when it finally came out, I dare say that it pretty damn well delivered to our expectations. It sounds dense and brutal on the heavier tracks while offering moments of genuine warmth, particularly shining through on the chilled-out tracks, “Wait” and “Maybe One Day,” which both feature more clean vocals. For a metal record, “The Work” might be far too dynamic to consider it merely a metal record – just like all the best “metal” records are! Once again, baritone, soprano, and alto saxophones add additional layers of atmosphere to the album. This time, though, the saxophones are used to create textures rather than jazzy motifs or solos like on the previous album. The only true sax solo appears on the track “The Void From Which No Sound Escapes.” It complements the song’s dystopian, science-fiction soundtrack atmosphere just perfectly.
Without giving away specific details, the album appears to be driven by a central concept – the work that each one of us has to put into life in order to get to savor the good stuff, the sweet, lovey-dovey bits. Perhaps deliberately, the central theme is vague and universal enough so that everyone can relate to it in their own particular way. A quick glance at the song titles already hint at the possibility for the songs to have some sort of common motif; the opening track is titled “The Tower (Theme from “The Work”),” whereas the album closes with the track titled “Terrestria IV: Work.” The wording pays obvious homage to the murky prog dungeons of the 1970s. The music has a subtle prog edge to it as well. It is more akin to the cinematic soundscapes of PINK FLOYD, though, rather than pyrotechnic instrumental madness – with a thick layer of harsh, technical death metal, of course. The punching riffs steamroll forward like a robot killing machine on turbo boost. The contrast between the heavier parts and the atmospheric stuff is rather noteworthy and it is certainly one of the most unique and appealing aspects of the band.
The new RIVERS OF NIHIL album is like a no-holds-barred plunge into the netherworld of our subconscious mind – the dark forest within us where we all have a lot of work to do fighting our inner demons. At the same time, it is a beautiful and intimidating journey – and highly rewarding. The music almost feels like shaking hands with the Devil himself only to find out it is warm in the night, just like Bono sang on that one U2 hit back in the day. Maybe these demons exist within each of our minds for a purpose? As the vocalist Jake Dieffenbach muses, “Do the work, I know it hurts.”
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- The Tower (Theme from ”The Work”)
- Dreaming Black Clockwork
- The Void from Which No Sound Escapes
- Tower 2
- Maybe One Day
- Terrestria IV: Work
Jake Dieffenbach – Vocals
Brody Uttley – Guitars
Jon Topore – Guitars
Adam Biggs – Bass/Vocals
Jared Klein – Drums
Metal Blade Records