Album Review: Where Owls Know My Name - Rivers Of Nihil
Artist: Rivers Of Nihil
Album: Where Owls Know My Name
Genre: Death Metal
Label: Metal Blade Records
Review by Jackson Price
The progressive attributes of Death Metal can be a distant memory at times with the genre becoming an arms race for bands competing to be the most brutal, heavy or obscene. A quick trip down memory lane will remind us how acts such as Death brought about a slightly more left field approach to heavy music at a time of experimentation for what was back then, a very young genre also. Over the years since that time, we have seen bands push the genre in more directions than fans could make up sub genres for, to explain what was going on. Bands such as Opeth, Akercocke, Cephalic Carnage and many others have managed to turn the Death Metal sound on it’s head or introduce fresh ideas that have both inspired and divided die hard fans for the past few decades, and in recent times we have seen a handful of comparatively younger bands such as Fallujah, The Faceless and Beyond Creation flexing their musical muscles in order to keep this tradition fresh and creative. Rivers of Nihil showed us glimpses of this with their last album Monarchy and gave us an insight to where they could take their sound in future releases. However, with Where Owls Know My Name they have found a path far less traveled and continued to carve out the niche they can confidently call their own.
To be completely honest, on my first listen to the record, I didn’t get it. The direction the band had pushed in left me behind at times. One of the reasons I was drawn to listening to this record in the first place was due to the huge reception it had received on my social media feeds, and after my maiden voyage into Where Owls Know My Name from start to finish, I was seriously in wonder as to how much the social media echo chamber effect had played into the hype around this release. There is this unrelenting 80’s prog and even pop vibe that sits just below the surface of the record that made it feel like I couldn’t take parts seriously. Saxophone, bizarrely enough, isn’t so foreign to extreme metal as it once was. But, there were instances in my first few listenings where I thought a song was about to break out into a cover of George Michael’s "Careless Whisper". Some guitar sections felt like they could have been a homage to Yes or Vai’s solo career. And then there’s the synth sections…
But, I hung in there. There was enough material that interested me to, well, keep me interested. And I’m glad I gave this record the time I did. In my personal opinion I consider Where Owls Know My Name to become that slow burner album some people are going to overlook on first listen and probably rediscover sometime later and just “click” with it.
The opening track ‘Cancer/Moonspeak’ introduces a mixture of synths, atmosphere and layering of clean/raspy/spoken vocals that actually works as a very tasteful build into the albums first full track ‘The Silent Life’. Those who are into Rivers of Nihil’s prior work will feel like they are in very familiar territory here with the band laying down some sounds reminiscent of material from previous releases. However when that time comes for the band to throw in some material to change things up. Right there, just before the halfway point of track 2, late era Pink Floyd-esque ambience and a saxophone solo. While this type of material isn’t all that new to the Rivers of Nihil camp, their execution of the newest venture and how ideas are presented has brought some of their less conventional ideas to the forefront of song writing and final mix.
Where Owls Know My Name shows a milestone for a band that feel like they may have been building up to this release for the last few albums. What could be seen as a change in sound, is now more of a evolution and maturity to my ears. When you take into account the different sounds they touched on including electronica, plenty of clean singing, jazzy/experimental sections, while keeping a very heavy and cohesive album from beginning to end, and also have a finished work that is packed with emotion and serious dynamics, I can now see why this album has gained the support from so many others. Give this one a listen, and if you don’t gel with it first time, give it another chance. With the amount of things going on you will pick up something different each time you hear it.
For fans of: Fallujah and Cephalic Carnage.
Where Owls Know My Name is available now via Metal Blade Records.
8.5 out of 10