In order to prepare myself for Rivers of Nihil‘s sophomore effort, Monarchy, I naturally went back to The Conscious Seed of Light, which I initially hated. And lo and behold, this time I found that I liked it – even less. Let’s begin at the beginning; in the flurry of sycophancy that accompanies every second prog death release (Fallujah, Inanimate Existence, Black Crown Initiate, etc) the metal blogosphere labeled The Conscious Seed of Light a triumph of artistic expression. It was hailed as “so great, so masterful, so powerfully potent, that it rivals even the most legendary work of some of [the band’s] peers and influences,” by HeavyBlog, but even blogs that you wouldn’t expect to do that followed suit, with NoCleanSinging calling it “one of the finest modern death metal albums,” although if you consider ‘modern’ to carry stylistic rather than temporal meaning that’s not an unbelievable claim. I felt then the specter of mundanity haunting the disc and to this day it remains among the most boring and overproduced LPs I’ve ever heard. But everyone gets a second chance here in the Angry Metal Guy temple of fairness and objectivity, and so I proceed with optimistic indifference into Monarchy.
Yet after just one song, I’m still of the opinion that Rivers of Nihil have nothing to offer me. If I wanted to hear djent riffing (Atheismo help me) I’d listen to Vildjharta. If I wanted to listen to prog death, I’d spin Alustrium or Cynic. And if I wanted to be put to sleep, I’d turn a fucking fan on. As “Perpetual Growth Machine,” “Sand Baptism” and “Monarchy” reveal, the band still opposes riffs both in concept and realization. For the most part, they pretend a couple of measures of chugging or fast strumming is worthy of being not just a riff, but the riff of a song. This is especially irritating on “Sand Baptism,” and due to the tried-and true technique using your fretting hand to scratch your ass for half of a song, the exact same strings of throbbing 8th notes happen across the album, usually in the verse when the album’s Magic: The Gathering style fantasy lyrics most need to be covered up.
The first worthwhile moment in the album comes with the Mastodon-riff intro to “Monarchy” which pops up again in the song’s second half before the band decides to end on a high note with yet more chugging. Immediately thereafter, “Terrestria II Thrive” reveals that astonishingly, yes, the band have listened to Fallujah, but assume that if they slap a few Beyond Creation riffs and inaudible acoustic guitar strumming onto what’s for the most part a instrumental aping of “The Flesh Prevails,” nobody will notice how shamelessly Rivers of Nihil has copied the band. “Circles in the Sky” continues this completely, down to the superfluous acoustic guitar, but adds in guitar solos via some dude who’s passingly familiar with David Gilmour but misses the point of David Gilmour entirely. Because of how derivative it is, it’s hard to make an overarching statement about the album, but if pressed for one, I’d say that Monarchy sounds a lot like Job For a Cowboy‘s Sun Eater if that album’s music were as embarrassing and detail-blind as its album art.
I wanted to enjoy this album because it’s just easier to not hate what I have to listen to, but unfortunately that’s not to be. Rivers of Nihil have again produced nothing more than a cut-rate digest of extreme metal; their influences are painfully obvious and any elements of their music that aren’t obviously stolen are mind-numbingly simplistic. The band’s writing is nugatory, the production is lifeless, and whether due to the preceding factors or just a lack of artistry, the performances on the record are second-rate, which is a death knell in the genre.
A teacher of mine once explained to my high school history class that the difference between a normal person and an artist is knowing when to stop. A normal person, he said, will start drawing something, decide it could be better if they changed this or added that, and they’ll keep doing it. It ends up as crap. An artist, he opined, will maybe change a few things, but early on set the pencil down, because they’ve made something good enough. Michelanagelo may have painted the Sistine Chapel, but what he really loved and wanted to do was carve pure white marble. This sort of artistry is what bands like Rivers of Nihil and Between the Buried and Me lack. By adding ideas from every band they’ve ever listened to that range in quality from great to ‘you had to be there’, they produce songs and albums that feel like a nine-year old’s dream car. Sure, the chrome wheels are a touch, but do you really want them on a car with green flame decals and a carbon fiber spoiler?
This is why so many bands which are, let’s face it, not at all creative, are ultimately much more successful and likable than self-proclaimed prog outfits; whether Fear Factory‘s ten or so identical albums are the product of artistry or just a lack of inspiration is impossible to discern because they sometimes result in the same thing. Even though Between the Buried and Me write music that’s far more creative, impressive, ambitious, and intelligent than, say Weekend Nachos, I’d still rather listen to the latter because that band just knows what the hell they want the end product to be. This album doesn’t know what it wants to be and this band doesn’t know what they want to sound like, and it’s even more painful to see that on their second album.