It was only a matter of time before a high-profile tech-death / djent mashup appeared on the scene. If you were hanging from your 8th string with bated breath for this moment, it has finally arrived: A mere year after their inception, Pennsylvania upstarts Rivers of Nihil are crashing the gates via Metal Blade. Their debut, The Conscious Seed of Light, is slightly baffling. On one hand, it’s easy to dismiss the album as an aural collage of the t-shirts in the band’s collective closet. At times, it plays out like a modern metal Power Point presentation: Bass-lick dropouts, open string chughammers, and spiraling-into-spaaaaaace shreddery all pop up within the first handful of minutes. The trope-aping is achingly obvious. That other hand, though? It itches to wipe away the clouds of cynicism. Rivers of Nihil might just be a sum of their favorite parts, but damned if they don’t weld their cobbled machinery with expertise.
The record opens with a sweeping, blackened-death crescendo, but unfortunately, it’s a flourish that never returns (save for a brief cameo nestled into mid-album cut “Central Antheneum”). Quickly, they morph into something resembling Decrepit Birth on djent-roids. (Lo and behold, are those Meshuggah and DB shirts haunting their promo pic? Shocking!) Before they can put this combo through its paces, they twist their djent jammin’ into Gojira-esque towerscrape on “Birth of the Omnisavior,” and then quickly veer into a weirdly appropriate Monstrosity / Vreid call-and-response on “Soil & Seed.”
The Conscious Seed of Light is a fluid, dexterous, nearly–creative blend of disparate extremisms, and the slickness in which the band bounces from one mini-arena to another is impressive. Caveat: Unless rectified, Rivers of Nihil’s lack of identity will be their downfall. Tightly-woven as it may be, it’s tough to swaddle yourself in their patchwork blanket for extended periods.
When a band’s best moments so obviously recall elder acts, it’s difficult to become invested. Pair the ear-twerking familiarity of these compositions with a computerized, all-men-on-ten production and a static, djentrified vocal delivery, and you’ve got a tough ten tracks to tackle. The perky riffs at the tail end of “Mechanical Trees” and the deft switchups in “Place of Serpents” will fall on ears that have spent the last twenty-odd-minutes mired a jaded adrenaline dump.
In ten years, someone could ask you, “Hey, what did modern extreme metal sound like in 2013?”, and you could quite reasonably hand them a copy of The Conscious Seed of Light. It tags every conceivable base. (Raw blackness aside.) But if you wanted to provide a more accurate depiction, it’d be wiser to hand them five / ten albums by the superior acts from which they’ve culled their identity.
There’s still hope that Rivers of Nihil will mature into something that sounds like, well, Rivers of Nihil, but if they want to start building that bridge, they need to place a premium on substance over style. As a debut record, The Conscious Seed of Light amounts to little more than a resume. Printed on quality stock, assuredly.