American death/black metal band, Rivers of Nihil, released their 3rd album on the 16th of March. That album is called Where Owls Know My Name and it may just be the greatest album you listen to this year.
Released via Metal Blade Records, Where Owls Know My Name is themed around Autumn. A concept that follows on from the band’s first two releases being based on Spring (The Conscious Seed of Light) and Summer (Monarchy). We reviewed one of the singles in the build up to this albums release. You can read our thoughts on The Silent Life here.
Rivers of Nihil are Jake Dieffenbach on vocals with Brody Uttley and Jon Topore on guitars. Adam Biggs is on the bass and provides backing vocals while Jared Klein is on the drums.
On their first two releases, Rivers of Nihil have shown themselves to be pioneers within their genre. They are creative and progressive, playing atmospheric black metal but dappled with influences from many other genres, in and out of metal. This has rightly led to them being respected and revered by the ever growing fan base. The band, speaking of Where Owls Know My Name, said ” The band has delivered an album which is often just as punishing as its predecessors while assimilating ingredients from musical genres as varied as electronica, jazz, alternative, folk and the golden age of Shrapnel Records. The resulting music is indescribably progressive, a multifaceted soundscape that goes beyond the wildest dreams of even the groups’ most ardent admirers”.
Where Owls Know My Name is 10 tracks/57 minutes of genius. We start with a scene setting intro called Cancer/Moonspeak which builds atmosphere with it’s sombre and sparing tones, whispered vocals and brooding melody. This intriguing opener leads straight into The Silent Life, which, if you read my single review, you know I love. It is a mesmerising song and the first real taste of the expansive elements included on this album with jazz influence via a saxophone’s addition that works beautifully.
More magic comes next with A Home. A bass heavy, chugging track that soon explodes into life with ferocious drumming and ripping guitar lines. Guttural growls and throat ripping roars pull you through the verses before a calmer section with a little melody. Back to the aggression for another verse before we head into a wicked guitar solo. There are loads of little solos in this track with a high pitched squealing one right at the end really standing out. Old Nothing has a gentler start before turning into the heaviest track so far. Despite that power, it still manages to have one of the catchiest choruses on the album. A solo offers a little reprieve before the riff, drums and vocals come in for a minute that makes even the start of the track seem soft in comparison.
Death is Real is another ferocious one with a really thunderous riff and insane drumming. It does manage to chuck in a huge solo that almost harks back to NWOBHM days. Something that could sound odd on a powerful black metal track but actually slips in perfectly. Hollow has an melodic but ominous sounding guitar intro. The ominous feeling was accurate as the track explodes into life like a double punch to the cranium. It moves into metalcore like rhythmic sections and then back to brutal death metal with vocals that come mixed through vicious and insanely vicious.
Where Owls Know My Name is broken up nicely half way through with an instrumental called Terrestria III: Wither which is dripping in bass and atmospheric sampling. A little electronica influence is on show before a guitar comes in playing a drawn out line to elevate a simple track to a place much higher.
My favourite songs on the album are the most inventive and progressive. The 8 and a half minjute epic with a song title to die for. Subtle Change (Including the Forest of Transition and Dissatisfaction Dance). That is a title.
The song lives up to it in every way. Being longer means more time for their genius. A slow, echoed start with whispered vocals. An upbeat rhythm with loads of cymbals comes next. Heavy vocals come in as the track starts building with menace before fading back to melodic. When it comes back in the guitars take the lead playing off kilter tones. A huge solo is part of this which leads into some brutal death drumming, riffage and vocals. Back to melodic with atmospherics added before we go straight back to brutality. This leads into a slow saxophone solo that is real ear candy. Drums and guitars soon join this for a huge instrumental section before we head back to the blistering death metal. The song then gently fades out to a slow and brooding melodic section. This track is magical.
The album ends on two of the best tracks on this amazing album. First up is title track, Where Owls Know My Name. A little slice of heavenly hell with a distorted start that leads into blistering riffage. We get more of the wonderful jazzy sax mixed with metal to split the verses that are unrelenting. The guitar comes in for a solo and is then joined by the sax. The sax and guitar together is a sound that just has to be heard. It’s perfect. The solo builds in menace before hitting us one more time with an assault on the senses.
The album closer is called Capricorn/Agoratopia and it just under 8 minutes long. It starts with a dark tone, hushed vocals with wonderful backing and gentle, atmospheric tones. This builds into the most infectious of riffs, again showing the band’s outer influences as it resembles something more from the sludge or doom area. We are soon into the blackest of black metal sounds. Pounding drums and bass swim underneath the powerful vocals and higher toned guitar lines.
A solo follows that switches the track up again leading into a bass heavy chugging section. A neck breakingly heavy section follows that threatens to destroy your spine before the song switches again. Almost silence is punctured only by occasional notes before huge instrumental build brings all instruments crashing back in together. My jaw literally fell open here. A final brutally heavy section leads into a majestic instrumental section to close the track and the album.
And what an album it is. I ended up writing so much more than I planned to because there is just so much to say. There is so much going on here in terms of style and creativity. In terms of non traditional sounds joining with the often very traditional black metal sound. From jazz to brutal death, from electronica to sludge to thrash. Probably everything in between too. What matters through is that everything works. Everything belongs. This the sound of Rivers of Nihil exclusively. Where Owls Know My Name is the sound of a band exactly in sync. Exactly on mission and that mission is to redefine the boundaries of what we know as metal. This album will be spoken about for years to come. You would be crazy to miss it.
Grab a copy of this masterpiece from Rivers of Nihil on Bandcamp here. You can also grab it from Metal Blade here. Finally, you can grab this album and more from the band at the Amazon links below. Find out more about Rivers of Nihil at their Bandcamp page, on Facebook or on Twitter. Be sure to give them a like or follow while you are there.
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Where Owls Know My Name by Rivers of Nihil (Metal Blade Records)
The Final Score - 10/10