Released: 2015, Metal Blade Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Spring gives way to summer on the second album from Pennsylvania tech-deathsters Rivers of Nihil, which advances a “seasonal” concept they began with their 2013 debut, The Conscious Seed of Light. Actually that's oversimplifying the matter, since the actual sci-fi/new age/philosophical storyline delves into the life cycle of the planet over countless eons and will eventually span four albums – one for each season – but we'd be here all day explaining the finer points, so let's leave it at that.
Needless to say, Rivers dabble in pretty heady fare, thematically and musically. Monarchy is a more mature, confident effort that benefits from a couple years of touring that solidified the core of guitarist Brody Uttley, bassist Adam Biggs and vocalist Jake Dieffenbach while acclimating new drummer Alan Balamut and guitarist Jon Topore. It tightens up some of Seed Of Light's tendency to wander and has a denser, heavier overall sound that makes it hit that much harder – delivering the djenty heft of Meshuggah and the fluidity and ferocity of Gojira or Decapitated.
While this is a tech-death concept album, it doesn't really seem as such, since the band largely eschew the usual thematic contrivances – segues, interludes, obvious cinematic or sonic connections. Tracks like “Dehydrate” and “Reign Of Dreams” are full-bore, surprisingly compact and very easily can stand on their own. Ditto the grander “Sand Baptism” and “Ancestral, I” that build more complexity and turbulence into the bombast topped by Jake Dieffenbach's mountainous vocals.
Things do start getting more fanciful with the title track just past the midway point. After the languid jazzy guitar at its outset, “Monarchy” roils under Biggs' tumultuous bass-lines when the hammer comes down. The instrumental “Terrestria II Thrive” is a showcase of the band's progressive chops, punctuated by ample soloing and Balamut's tail gunner-like drum fusillades. “Circles In The Sky” and “Suntold” wrap things up in suitably epic fashion, taking the thunder of the first half of the album and the intricacy of the latter part and mashing them together over more sprawling arrangements. It makes for a truly grand finale.
There is certainly no sophomore slump where Rivers of Nihil are concerned. The band have taken the promise of their debut and built themselves into a more formidable and accomplished band all around – even with a couple new members. Monarchy makes a real statement for these guys, and it will be interesting to see just what they have to say for themselves when the “autumn” album rolls around in a couple years.