Welcome to the 13th instalment of my Album of the Year 2018 top 30 countdown. The number 13 may be unlucky for some, but not for the band that’s featured today, especially because I knew next to nothing about them at the start of 2018 and therefore hadn’t even considered that they might feature in my top 30 come the end of the year.
And that, right there, is the beauty of music and my top 30 countdown. Not only do I get to review some great albums, I get to revisit them at the year end and offer readers another chance to delve into some of these fabulous releases.
Just to keep things interesting, here are the links to my previous 12 chapters, from 30-19. So, if you’ve missed any of my previous posts, here’s your chance to remedy that small, insignificant error.
If you missed the previous posts in my 2018 list, click here:
Album of the Year 2018 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2018 – Number 20
Album of the Year 2018 – Number 21
Album of the Year 2018 – Number 22
Album of the Year 2018 – Number 23
Album of the Year 2018 – Number 24
Album of the Year 2018 – Number 25
Album of the Year 2018 – Number 26
Album of the Year 2018 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2018 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2018 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2018 – Number 30
And now for today’s main event…
Rivers of Nihil
‘Where Owls Know My Name’
Metal Blade Records
Score of Much Metal: 9.5
As I alluded to in the introduction above, this was a band I knew nothing of at the beginning of the year. And even when I was sent the promo, it took me ages to get around to listening to it. But when I finally did and when I finally allowed the music to envelop my ears…oh my word! I say envelop, but perhaps ‘batter’ or ‘assault’ might be equally apt. For whilst there are some quieter, more melodious sections on ‘Where Owls Know My Name’, where the music does gently envelop the listener, for the most part, Rivers of Nihil take delight in pummelling the listener black and blue.
Blistering blastbeats, and metronomic precision are the biggest weapons in the Rivers of Nihil armoury when they are on the attack. The brutality is just so incisive and formidable, it makes me shake my head in wonder even now. But that would be nothing without some songwriting nous and the injection of a different ingredient or two within the final product. On that score, this American band deliver in plentiful supply. There is a surprising amount of melody to hear, the kind of melody that requires repeated listens and which has the ability to stop me in my tracks when it emerges from the swirling maelstrom of extreme metal that surrounds it.
I’m not normally one for brass instruments but even they have their place here, as do the slightly surreal, psychedelic interludes, the flashes of prog and the occasional mellifluous clean vocal. I stated at the end of my review (below) that this might just turn out to be the best extreme death metal album of 2018 and by jove, here we are in December and I’m still thinking the very same thing. Call me ‘Mystic Matt’!
To quote my review of 31 July 2018:
“What I think this record does so well, is it combines a complex, tightly-honed and uncompromising form of modern djent-inspired death metal, with something altogether more organic, inviting and esoteric. If the relentless bludgeoning of warp-speed blast beats and riffs can come across as slightly cold, these passages are interspersed with music that is much warmer, more tactile, more human. For my tastes, this is a magnetic combination.
What makes this album even more amazing is that these breaks in the extremity are almost entirely coloured by strong melodies and are then bathed in lush atmosphere. Clearly the Americans have been inspired by the likes of Pink Floyd and King Crimson in this regard, which is no bad thing. And then, they add in an element of strings and brass to further push the envelope.
…as I listen more, I have realised that the dichotomy between all-out extremity and the quieter, more melodic passages are not quite as distinct as I first thought. Many of the brutal passages actually benefit from being underpinned by layers of atmospheric synths and inviting sounds. And, in some cases, they carry with them a certain groove or melody of their own – it’s not all chug, chug, growl here.
And that’s another aspect of Rivers Of Nihil that I really like – the variety within the vocals on this record. Everything from ravaged screams, to guttural growls, to a deep clean timbre are deployed for maximum effect at various points within the album.
I might be a little early to say, but ‘Where Owls Know My Name’ will almost certainly claim a spot in my end-of-year ‘best of’ list. Indeed, from where I’m sitting right now, it has a fighting chance of being crowned my favourite death metal album of 2018.”
Read the full review here.
If you missed my ‘best EPs and compilations of 2018, you can read that here:
And here’s a reminder of my countdown series from previous years: