Review: Rivers Of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name

Rivers of Nihil’s third album, the follow up to 2015’s Monarchy, signals a huge leap forward for the Pennsylvanian quintet. Combining complex song structures with experimental instrumentation, notably the prominent use of saxophone, the band are clearly aiming to take progressive death metal into uncharted territories and have created one of the most unique albums you will hear all year.

Where Owls Know My Name opens with the gentle, ambient short ‘Cancer/Moonspeak’, slightly misleading the listener before the album kicks off in earnest with gargantuan second track and lead single ‘The Still Life’. Blastbeats, chugging riffs and subtle atmospheric touches are the perfect setting for lead singer Jake Dieffenbach’s emotive growl as he poetically implores “I still remember a better time, when the thoughts we had connected between our open eyes”. An indication of the intricacies to come is provided by a change of pace midway through the track, which introduces us to some beautiful lead guitar work and saxophone passages.

The album boasts some of the band’s most progressive work to date, particularly in its mid-section, which houses instrumental ‘Terristria III’ and the eight-minute-plus ‘Subtle Change (The Forest of Transition and Dissatisfaction Dance)’, which again features some blistering lead work, this time bolstered by intricate keys and haunting clean and growled vocals, before the track ends with a quieter acoustic passage. The song shifts gears with such frequency that there simply aren’t enough words to do it justice – it just needs to be listened to.

The album’s peak comes in its closing moments, as the title track blends groove-driven riffs and melodic bass lines with saxophone interludes to deliver something quite unique. Meanwhile, monumental closer ‘Capricorn/Agoratopia’ proves something else entirely – a mesmerising eight-minute epic which sees the band close the album in style as they build to a truly fitting and infinitely epic crescendo.

Where Owls Know My Name has set a new benchmark, not only for progressive death metal, but heavy music in general. Whilst many tracks – in particular, the heavier shorter numbers – work amazingly well on their own, this is an album to devour in one sitting as a complete work of art. 2018 has already proven itself to be an exceptional year for metal (and we’re not even a quarter of the way through) but this writer can confidently say this stunning album will grace numerous end of year lists come December.

Where Owls Know My Name is out now on Metal Blade Records.

Words: Adam Pegg

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