RIVERS OF NIHIL "The Work"
This band had definitely come a long way with just those first three successively more incredible records, carving out a place in tech death that was all their own. This genre has definitely been in a certain state for the past decade and a half with everyone just trying to see you can play faster sweep arpeggios and play more computer-like precise than the other. RIVERS OF NIHIL was a nice breath of fresh air as they create real atmosphere with real heaviness, not resorting to extremes of dynamic shifts. That was the RIVERS OF NIHIL we had been exposed to previously, but that band is just no more if this record is any indication.
First song "The Tower" sets an extremely weird tone that I truly hate. I instantly am transported to the world of mind numbingly boring progressive metal not unlike DREAM THEATER at their headiest, and I am not a fan. You almost speak too soon and breathe a sigh of relief once "Dreaming Black Clockwork" comes in, as we're treated to precision-based extreme tech death riffage like what you know and love from this band. Even that is short-lived though as it gets tempered unfairly early by these odd instrumental interludes. They are just uneasy, edge-of-your seat prog-iness that almost feels like it is for the sake of it. At the album's heaviest moments like the initial riffing of "MORE?," the vibey jackhammering in 1:35-2:13 of "Clean" or the piledriving 1:36-2:31 of "The Void from Which No Sound Escapes," you get little feelings of hope. Like, 'hey, I'm reading too much into this. This is the same band that put out "Monarchy" and "Where Owls Know My Name" and they still have the brutal delivery!'
However, these moments are fleeting and get dashed upon the rocks as soon as another clean section, synth part, FLOYD-esque guitar solo, or saxophone interlude kicks in out of practically nowhere. The funny thing is, you find yourself loving these parts individually; these parts would be huge moments on any other record where they put into music more befitting them. Here, they just interrupt, and not like a mere conversational interruption, but like a Debbie Downer, grind-to-a-halt interruption. As a result, oddly my absolute favorite track on here is the most out-of-place tune herein, the ballad-ey "Maybe One Day," where finally these weird elements seem to coalesce and unify to a very positive end result. But then you remember that this is a RIVERS OF NIHIL record, predominantly a tech-death unit, and you just get bummed that such an awesome, killer tune is coming from a source that just seems incorrect. Like when your former school bully gives you a ride to your therapist's office. I'm grateful, but woefully confused.
As I type this, I am going through such a weird rush. Many would argue that the purpose of music is to evoke emotional response, and in the case of metal that it doesn't necessarily need to be mindless headbang chug riffs. While I can appreciate this sentiment, you hear a record like "The Work" and feel that a little more mindlessness could have been a serious step in a better direction. This album has more peaks and valleys within one song than most complete albums have and I say that not as a compliment at all. This is a record that pulls you in close and hits you hard in the feels, but those feelings are uneasiness, anxiety, and near suicide-inducing depression. It is dark, it is bleak, it is heavy on the riffs when it wants to be, and heavy on the heart every other time to a huge fault, the only exception being that incredibly uplifting and tragically out-of-place "Maybe One Day."
Odd as it sounds, it is a record that I just really hope I never hear again because of what it does to me as a listener.