Rivers Of Nihil Interview with Jon Kunz
Interview by Lee Carter
Metal Blade Records new-boys Rivers Of Nihil have certainly announced their arrival in some style with their debut album “The Conscious Seed Of Light” – a devastating and cold cut of death metal centring on spring; the light and breezy quarter of a projected quadrilogy of albums based upon the seasons. True to the album’s seasonal sentiments, Rivers Of Nihil bring life anew to an at-times heavily-processed death metal world – there is both life and a live-feel to the album that begs to be heard. Since the guys will be full of the joys of spring after the successful launch of their debut, it seems as good a time as any to get a couple of questions into them…
Hey, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions! Please introduce yourself and your position in the band…
Thank you for the interview! My name is Jon Kunz and I play guitar in Rivers of Nihil.
So how come the theme of spring for your debut?
When we were writing the album, Biggs had the idea to write a series of “concept” albums linked together by the seasons. I use concept in parentheses here as they’re not concept albums in the truest sense, rather they are a way to link the albums. The concept is part of rivers, it doesn’t take precedence over the music.
Was this an idea that you had coming into the album or did it develop over the course of it’s recording?
The idea came to be while we were writing the album, all the lyrics and music was finished when we entered the studio.
It has to be said that for an album that is centred on a time of renewal and growth, the overall sound is (as was put by Metal Rules UK in the album review) “bleak, cold and brutal” – was this a conscious decision?
There are two things we wanted the album to do to the listener. The first is we wanted the songs to stick in your head, and the second is we wanted the songs to give you the chills when listening to certain parts. That bleak and depressive sound is something we enjoy and will continue experimenting with it.
With this sound in-mind (and without trying to get too ahead of ourselves here!), how does this bode for your winter-themed album in the future?
I knew this one was coming! We will see when winter gets here.
Lyrically, there are some wider topics being addressed (such as Warren Jeffs in “A Fertile Altar” and tribal religious ceremonies in “Place Of Serpents”) – whilst the album isn’t a concept album, were there links within these to the concept of spring’s new beginnings, growth and the natural world or were they simply just great songs for the album?
I can’t answer this truthfully being that Biggs wrote the lyrics, but I’ll go out on a limb here and say yes. He really dug in with the themes and metaphors on the album, so I think both served the album equally well.
What inspired the lyrical content on the album?
Dig in with the lyric sheet, some candles, and a glass of high quality whiskey and let your mind wonder where these lyrics came from.
Let’s talk the album’s sounds: the first thing that I personally noticed was the change in drum sound from your pre-production version of “Rain Eater” – it has a wonderful “live” sound and eschews the modern metal trend of a “clicky” kick drum. What inspired you to opt for such a sound?
We wanted to get away from the modern death metal sound; you know that computer perfect tightness and production that just doesn’t sound real, because it isn’t real. We are all fans of bands that utilize that production technique, but it is something that we don’t want to be a part of.
Additionally, the vocal style has changed from your earlier EPs – why?
Our music has changed quite a bit since the old EPs where we more concerned with the heavy and brutal nature of death metal. Jake’s vocal style back then fit the music very well, but as we’ve moved on that very low and guttural style didn’t fit, so like anything else, he pushed himself and focused on that mid heavy clarity you hear on the album. We’re all incredibly stoked about this change, Rutan worked his ass in the studio to get it to that point though.
As for the guitars, they have a brilliant tone – how was this achieved?
We used Rutan’s late 90s Marshall JCM800 2203. Very low gain, very mid heavy. We boosted it with a Maxon Super Tube OD. That was the last head we would’ve thought we’d be using on the album, but it sounds so good. I’ve played a few 2203s since then, but nothing has sounded quite like that head. I’ll find a perfect one someday.
What is your opinion regarding amps vs. simulators such as the Fractal Axe FX?
Tubes all the way all day. My biggest problem with modelling amps, besides the difference in tone because there is a difference is that most people I’ve seen who use them use it for like 2 or 3 different sounds. Not only that, they power it with some crazy good tube head! Just use the real amp! It’s all just a trend. There will be something new that comes along next year. I’ll stick with my tubes.
Obviously you guys utilise the standard 8-string-style F# tuning – what inspired you to opt for this? Have you had any problems playing such a technically-demanding style whilst playing such a low tuning?
We use F# yes, but we play 7 strings. We came to this tuning because C# standard is the perfect 6 string tuning for what we do, and the dropped strings adds a whole level when you want to get that low. The only trouble we’ve ever run into with this low tuning is when we were recording. “Soil & Seed” was originally octave chords in the main riff rather than power chords, but we couldn’t get the guitars in tune perfectly enough for this, so we had to change it up. Once you get that low, you run into these little intonation problems even after getting the guitars set up. We didn’t use any kind of pitch correction so we had to troubleshoot so to speak.
Another notable aspect to the album’s sound is the presence of the bass – and it is a joy to hear! Were you as a band quite keen for the bass to be audible and to allow some of the various techniques and counter-point lines to be noticeable?
Of course! Biggs writes parts for the music, rather than just following the guitar parts note for note. You need to hear the bass for these reasons alone, it adds a whole other dimension to the riffs. We joke about burying the bass, but why would you ever want to do that? If you play on something, you want to hear it. We’ll keep it that way.
Amidst the brutality, there are some more delicate sections of ambient post-rock (“Central Antheneum” and album closer “Airless”, particularly) – what inspired them?
Brody and I are very big into post rock and metal, so those influences creep in. Brody wrote both of those songs. We’re into bands like Sigur Ros, Explosions In The Sky, Neurosis, My Bloody Valentine, etc., etc….
The album was produced by death metal legend Erik Rutan and he has, naturally, done a superb job – did you as a band have much input into the mixing and production process or was it a case of “master and apprentice”?
Rutan killed it. He is the master at death metal production. He keeps things natural but still super heavy. I’d say it was more Erik leading the way. As we got mixes, we had input on things like you would expect but we really let him run with it before sending us the mixes.
Naturally now the album is out, you’ll be heading out to tour it – are there any plans to head over to UK shores?
No Euro tours are planned right now unfortunately, but we will get there soon!
Who would you like to join on tour or have join you?
Revocation, Fallujah, Gorguts, Sigur Ros, Neurosis, Deafheaven, Defeated Sanity, Cannibal Corpse, The Black Dahlia Murder, Vattnet Viskar, fucking Slayer, Neil Young.
You’ve put out a few videos to YouTube including: the video for “(sin)chronos” from the “Temporality Unbound EP”, lyric videos, play-throughs and an album sampler, but are there any plans for a music video to any tracks from this album?
And that’s the interview! Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions! One final question: is there anything you’d like to say to the Metal Rules readers or in general?
Thanks for the interview! Thanks for all the support. It’s been amazing. Keep moving forward.