The Occasional Blandness of Brutality (Or, Why Pro Tools Can Hurt More Than Help)
Progressive/death metal act Rivers of Nihil acknowledge the influence their “decaying hometown” of Reading, PA play on their music in the bio on their website. Reading was a town built on the coal industry and there is a mechanistic regularity to each note, each tone, each growl or throaty scream. If only the music on the band’s new record, The Conscious Seed of Light, produced anything remotely as powerful as the combustion in the power plants once fueled by their hometown’s coal.
By and large they fail to deliver on the “progressive” label. There’s none of the harmonic adventurousness (outside of a token tritone here or there), none of the alternate voicings, contrapuntal melodies, or perpetually fluctuating odd meters one would find on a Dillinger Escape Plan or Opeth record. The ease of studio manipulation (quantizing, drum triggers for the kick, endless takes, comps, and edits) are evident in the record’s milquetoast production. Songs like “Soil & Seed” follow the formula the rest of the record takes—blast beat, half-time groove, blast beat, three or four riffs, rinse and repeat. There are no dynamics, no sudden turns, no asides, no diversions. (What’s more, even with The Conscious Seed of Light’s studio-sheen, the solos often meander melodically—especially in “Rain Eater”—and don’t approach the technical prowess of Death’s Chuck Schuldiner or Dillinger’s Ben Weinman.) The formulaic nature of much of the writing lends itself to utilizing the studio in such a way, but it also sanitizes whatever grime, pathos, or dirt the record might potentially possess. How can something so precise, so measured and considered, approach their self-professed “aggressiveness”?
Closing track “Airless” offers a brief bit of respite to the predictable blast beat or series of staccato full band hits that start every other track as it gives you a few seconds of ambient guitar to start. Soon it wades into more familiar territory, but the hints of pinch harmonics in the verse’s arpeggiated riffs and the addition of occasional rhythmic anticipation and the B-section’s slightly knottier-than-usual-riff provide a welcome change of pace (besides, what at this point are the maddeningly annoying obligatory triggered double-kick-drum fluries).
Ultimately, it’s too little too late. Rivers of Nihil are fine players and the vocals are spot on for the genre but the record lacks the diversity or adventurousness to compete with bands like Dillinger Escape Plan or Morbid Angel or Death. Fans of progressive/death metal may enjoy the record, but it will still pale in comparison to albums like Death’sHuman or Dillinger’s Calculating Infinity. Unfortunately, relistening to those masterpieces is still more rewarding than this newest offering from Rivers of Nihil.