Anyone that heard the massive evolution Rivers Of Nihil took on 2018’s Where Owls Know My Name won’t be surprised that The Work goes all in with the progressive tendencies. An increase in the usage of the saxophone as an atmospheric enhancer, melodic vocals present in almost every song, and a beautiful execution of a death metal-meets-power ballad in “Maybe One Day” all present the band as far removed from the elementary technical death metal of their early career.
This gradual change is not one the band blindsided us with but spent the better part of a decade building towards. Even so, many may not be prepared for The Work to begin with a piano-led, self-proclaimed theme song in “The Tower,” which fashions the album as a masterful soundtrack. They bring the theme back later on in “Tower 2,” a coda that leads to a trio of songs that encapsulates the best of the band’s genre-bending songwriting.
“Maybe One Day” is a part of that trio, sandwiched between the fluid guitar leads of “Episode” and the cavernous continuation of the Terrestria saga with closer “Terrestria IV: Work,” a series that dates back to the band’s first album, The Conscious Seed Of Light. Those three tracks finish out the album as a firm representation of how the lines between progressive and technical death metal have blurred, to the point where it’s impossible to consider them one or the other.
The sonic unknowns make The Work more gripping than anticipated, as each song could literally go in any angle. From the elegant saxophone solo on “The Void From Which No Sound Escapes” to the outrageous quick punch of “MORE?”, there’s no way to figure out what lies ahead throughout the album’s 65 minutes. That’s a benefit with an album this long, which could stumble against such expectations if they played it safe.
The trajectory of Rivers Of Nihil can arguably be compared to the likes of Job For A Cowboy and Between The Buried And Me; a group that came from humble beginnings to make waves by transforming themselves over the course of several albums. The little hints of their deathcore days pop up in the occasional breakdown, yet it can be believed that not even the band knew that somewhere down the line an album like The Work would come from them.
There will be a tiny sector of the metal community that, like they did with Where Owls Know My Name, will turn away The Work for not being technical enough or for pushing their melodic side to the front. Those expecting Rivers Of Nihil to move backwards will have to keep waiting, as this album is exactly where the band should be right now. It succeeds by not being afraid to take risks that would make others feel uncomfortable trying.
(released September 24, 2021 on Metal Blade Records)
Heavy Music HQ Rating:
Watch Rivers Of Nihil – “Focus” Video