"Where Owls Know My Name"

By El Chief

Decay has brought out the best in Rivers of Nihil. Their third full-length ("Where Owls Know My Name") continues the seasonal themes explored in their previous works. What began with Spring in "The Conscious Seed of Life" has now given way to Fall, and just as the period tells us in its name, decline has brought the prosperous to their knees. Even the newcomer to Rivers of Nihil will understand the essence of the album immediately upon gazing at Dan Seagrave's phenomenal depiction of a forlorn tree-being (think: Ents from "Lord of the Rings") solemnly ruminating in the midst of a barren land. There's nothing positive to behold.

Except, of course, for the music. Because "Where Owls Know My Name" is darkly brilliant. The band has taken a huge step forward in the scant space of three albums. What once was reckless cords crashing against each other, often for the mere sake of filling the void of a recording track now finds the team bursting out a freaking saxophone during the mid-points of "The Silent Life," as both a compliment to the lead guitar work and as a tempo shifter to drench the sonic assault with a torrent of god forsaken despair. And when the sax returns again in "Subtle Change," there is absolutely nothing subtle about it. Rivers of Nihil is going straight for your throat to claw it out in the same way the central character is succumbing to disease.

The theme of mental illness as a Stygian ferry finally allows one of the more jarring aspects of Rivers of Nihil to feel like it's found a home. Too often Rivers of Nihil has abandoned the fertile soil of technical death metal for the mind-numbing stupidity of deathcore. But, here, when the stuttering guitars get stuck in the muck of unnecessary blast beats and eyeroll-inducing electronic effects, it's meant to underscore that notion that death fucking sucks. That might be the only time when I'll grant that it's okay to bust out a breakdown that never, ever ends.

The second half of "Where Owls Know My Name" is where Rivers of Nihil really shine. There, sequences are crafted out of slower tempos. That's because it makes no sense whatsoever for a diseased mind to sprint to its demise. Whether it's dementia or Alzheimer's, cerebral decay is almost always a marathon. It's the horror of horrors, to be aware that one is losing their grip, their promise, their vitality and not be able to do a damn thing about it. Rivers of Nihil captures that frantic thrashing perfectly with "Hollow." Solemn moments shift out of nowhere into sprawling bouts of rage before ultimately fading slowly into silence. It's only natural that a track entitled "Death is Real" follows.

We've been waiting awhile now for younger bands to seize the extreme metal's mantle. For too long, long-in-the-tooth acts have been a head banger's only genuine headliners. But even legendary acts like Obituary and Decrepit Birth aren't going to be able to force aging fingers onto unyielding frets forever. With "Where Owls Know My Name," Rivers of Nihil leave no doubt that they are ready to take the reins, which makes this album dripping with death more like a disc spinning new blood into the greatest musical genre Satan ever breathed to life.