Artist: Rivers of Nihil
Genre: Death Metal, Technical Death Metal
Release Date: August 21, 2015
Publisher: Metal Blade Records
1. Heirless - 2:24 6. Dehydrate - 4:00
2. Perpetual Growth Machine - 4:51 7. Monarchy - 5:43
3. Reign of Dreams - 3:16 8. Terrestria II: Thrive
4. Sand Baptism - 4:49 9. Circles in the Sky - 6:27
5. Ancestral, I - 4:33 10. Suntold - 7:23
Monarchy is an album by Philadelphia, MA Death/Technical Death Metal band Rivers of Nihil, released by Metal Blade Records in August 2015. This is Rivers of Nihil's second full length album, a follow up to 2013's The Conscious Seed of Light, which was pretty positively received and actually gained quite a bit of coverage for what was actually a tech death album. Seed of Light is a good reference point, being the material that most are familiar with of the group, as the band's prior 2 EPs (Temporality Unbound and Hierarchy) were released independently through Bandcamp. Seed of Light was lauded by critics and fans alike for having a strong and fast instrumentation style, a solid meaty tone, an interesting mix in production quality (neither very clear or very muddy), and unusual vocals for a death metal band.
Monarchy's themes are similar to Seed of Light, both discussing nature, a lot of abstract and esoteric concepts. For example, track 3, "Reign of Dreams", explores the concept of dreams and the way that the human mind loses its boundaries when we sleep and enter them. Honestly, the vocals and the lyrics strike me heavily as being a very nice change of pace from what tends to come standard in extreme metal. The band's vocalists provide almost hardcore punk style vocals, preferring a bit more of a barking harsh vocal style that hardcore fans will likely be able to discern easily. As far as lyrics, most death metal bands have either very abstract (The Contortionist, Opeth) or very violent lyrics (Cannibal Corpse, some stuff by Carcass, etc.) and Rivers of Nihil is definitely more towards the former.
Bassist/Vocalist Adam Biggs told Metal Blade during a promo for Monarchy that Seed of Light was meant to start a theme of seasons, being spring to Monarchy's summer. It definitely shows in the lyrics and tone, with slower, more harmonic elements coming into play, bringing forth feelings of attempting to thrive in the world and the introspection that follows once death is no longer at one's heels. The first album, by contrast, had much more of a hardcore edge with faster, shorter songs that represented the struggle of life trying to take root in a harsh world. However, the albums have a couple connections more obvious than theme, with the final and first tracks of the albums essentially sharing a name ("Airless" closing the first/"Heirless" opening the second), and a sequel instrumental to "Terrestria I: Thaw" with "Terrestria II: Thrive". Biggs paints a picture of a world moving through the seasons and shows how they affect life and its will to progress and succeed. The first album focused on growth, but Monarchy speaks much more abstractly, with great emphasis placed on the sun as a source of life and energy as well as the concept of the person and their ties to the physical plane. The ideas of what physicality gives to a person, and whether it's worth keeping, are kept in mind throughout the album, with the closing track setting up the next album (autumn) by suggesting widespread death to come as the sun begins to be eclipsed.
In terms of instrumentation, Rivers of Nihil very much is a technical death band at heart, with each member of the band displaying great skill with their instrument. That said, there is a noticeable lack of guitar solos, a criticism leveled at the first album, despite having two guitarists, Brody Uttley and Jon Topore, who is new since the last album. However, I really enjoy the way that melodic elements that have been introduced, which remind me incredibly of The Contortionist (especially Exoplanet) and even a bit of Opeth and Between the Buried and Me, all of whom combine melodic breaks in juxtaposition to their harder riffs. Styles like this are not simply used for the pure sonic dissonance, but rather as a means to create multiple tones and atmospheres within the individual songs. This then provides the ability to create more overarching tones and themes, the way Rivers of Nihil have done with this album and their prior.
These melodic elements might not be the most technical, but they present a level of craftsmanship that each guitarist very strongly owns in their writing. They set a somber, more melancholy tone, with an almost nihilistic atmosphere towards the end, matching up with the lyrics. The character abandons his search for meaning in the world, accepting that corporeal existence might not have much value him. The melodicism strengthens as the album goes on, with the first few songs being very heavy, and starting to slow after about track 6. Outside of the guitars, which usually rule the show in bands like this, Biggs and even moreso Alan Balamut, the drummer, manage to keep up and even shine through brightly at times. Biggs adds a great amount of meat to the riffs and gives Uttley and Topore more room to play around with the higher register, rather than defaulting to the lowest couple of strings on their 7-strings. Balamut, also new to the band, demonstrates some of the best proficiency with his kit that I've heard in a while. His fills and rolls are excellent bits of flair that keep the tempo up between riffs and his machine gun bass pedals are not too heavily abused, a mistake that all too many drummers make.
All around, the band pulls their performance together even tighter despite trading out two members and bringing in an extra vocalist, adding elements to fix what little was deemed to be wrong with their last release. Personally, I believe this is one of the best Death Metal albums out this year, and definitely worth a listen if you're considering looking into the genre or are an existing fan.