Rivers of Nihil - Where Owls Know My Name

Rivers of Nihil

Where Owls Know My Name

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Rivers of Nihil have unleashed a groundbreaking new album, Where Owls Know My Name, released on March 16th via Metal Blade Records. The quintet, formed in 2009 and based in Reading, Pennsylvania, has taken a huge leap with this album. It is not only an enormous shift from their previous records that will pleasantly surprise current fans, but it is also an extremely progressive album that pushes the envelope of death metal as a genre. 

RoN have laid out a seasonal approach to their albums; The Conscious Seed of Light (2013), was based on spring, and Monarchy (2015), on summer. The seasonal concept of their albums became more developed on Monarchy but truly shines on Where Owls Know My Name. As Owls is RoN’s 3rd studio album, its seasonal concept is autumn, a period associated with gloom, melancholy, and death. The lyrical themes of Owls are the perfect representation of the season’s setting. They are profoundly regretful, depressive and convey a true state of hopelessness. Owls contains less of a narrative than the first two albums and instead uses this autumn setting as a backdrop to weave the dark, emotional fabric of our lonely protagonist. The only thing that would have made this release better is if it was timed to release in the fall, and not in spring. 

The evolution of RoN’s sound from Monarchy to Owls is astonishing. On Owls, RoN have carved out a truly unique sound that completely diverges from their first two albums, and sets them apart from others in the metal community. The most notable difference is the inclusion of less conventional instruments, such as saxophone, and mellotron. The incorporation of these new elements is something this album does exceptionally well. The band strikes a delicate balance between the instruments, and allow each one room to breathe and shine on their own. While the album surprises, it never feels overwhelming. 

The songwriting is mature and professional. When the time is right, it delivers raw intensity, but in ways that combine cohesively to form its unique sonic texture. The song composition is the most impressive aspect of this album and not the individual instrumentation, although there certainly are some ripping heavy sections. This creates an album with huge variety, but it all works together to provide a smooth and coherent listen all the way through.

The opening track “Cancer/Moonspeak” immediately sets the ominous, mysterious mood of the album. The opening lines “Fear, fear drowns the mind, In this kingdom of mine” begins to paint the vivid picture that reveals itself throughout the album. While the track does succeed in setting the dark tone, it isn’t all that impressive of an opener when compared to Monarchy’s “Heirless”. The next track “The Silent Life” completely makes up for the opener’s shortcoming. It is the first single off the album and is a prime example of RoN’s diverse new sound. The guitars, drums, and bass burst into action with big, open chords, before snapping into a groovy verse. But, it’s the new instruments of mellotron and saxophone that really give this song its color. A soft bridge section with a gorgeous saxophone solo provides an entirely new dimension, and really demands the listener’s attention. When contrasted immediately after by the track’s heaviest section, it hits all that much harder. “A Home” is another solid track, where the mellotron succeeds in creating an intense and epic atmosphere. 

“Subtle Change (Including the Forest of Transition and Dissatisfaction Dance)” is almost as confusing as its title. This is the one track that threatens to be a little too progressive, with so many different elements infused into 8-minutes that it’s hard to digest. Like the batch of jungle juice at your college frat party, you never quite know what the next ingredient will be. It’s almost as if the band was making a statement of ‘here’s all the crazy shit we can do’. It’s the album’s biggest curveball, and its explorative sections make it an extremely interesting and rewarding listen. The saxophone section in the middle of this track is undeniably goosebump-worthy, and one of the best parts of the album.

Rivers of Nihil continue to surprise with the next track “Terrestria III (Wither)”. It’s an instrumental track that showcases an electronic, almost dubstep component. While it initially grabs the listener’s attention, its repetitive and static structure prevents it from reaching its full potential. RoN’s willingness to experiment is certainly appreciated, but they were half-committed to this track and it fails to live up to the rest of album in terms of creativity and composition. It isn’t quite sure what it is, and for this reason, it seems to serve as more of an intermission, sitting right in the middle of the album.  

The album snaps right back to its death metal roots with “Hollow” and “Death Is Real”. Drummer Jared Klein tears through “Hollow” with an impressive pummelling of double kick with machine-gun precision. The title track is the album’s most somber, and shines with its dark and powerful lyrics: “You've wasted all that you have been given, Still hoping to find a way to make life worth living”. It’s heavy stuff. Black Crown Initiate’s vocalist Andy Thomas contributes several sections on the album, but nowhere else is his presence more noticed than the beautiful opening passage on this track. 

Owls will draw you in and take you for a ride. This diverse and explorative album has so much to dissect and begs to be played again and again. Clean vocals, melodic saxophone, and other new elements give this album a 3-dimensional quality. It’s restrained when need be, and its heavier parts are more impactful and effective because of this. It is by far RoN’s most creative work yet, and they’ve set the bar high for their next album. Where Owls Know My Name pushes death metal’s boundaries as a genre and showcases what happens when a band isn’t afraid to stray from the herd and explore different avenues of their sound. We’re looking forward to hearing more metal records like this, keep ’em coming.