Released: 2013, Metal Blade Records
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
The Conscious Seed Of Light is conceptualised around the season of spring - plants flowering anew, trees returning to a lush green colour and wildlife awakening from hibernation. But there's no joyous sounds like that of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" here - Reading, Pennsylvania natives and Metal Blade Records new guys RIVERS OF NIHIL have produced a record that is the polar opposite of the vibrancy of spring: bleak, cold and brutal. If you were expecting a flowery affair, then maybe you should take a further look at the album's artwork for a helpful hint - yes, nature is springing forth but at the expense of human life.
As modern death metal goes, this ticks all the boxes. Melding finger-flaying riffs to deathcore-style breakdowns; grooves; haunting cleans to fret-melting leads; blasting drums to intense and intricate baselines and winding them through ten songs and never letting up. Many have drawn comparison to the band's inspirations in Nile and Decrepit Birth, and on the evidence here it is justified. "Human Adaptation" and "Birth Of The Omnisavior" demonstrate the speed and intensity with which Nile are revered, yet the meld this with Nile's atmospheres and the Decrepit Birth-style atmospheric leads - guitarists Brody Uttley and Jon Kunz's enjoyment of post-rock shines through here and it is a ray of light on an otherwise dark platform. They also benefit from bringing an emotive side to their leads - they can shred brilliantly, but balance it with a carefully chosen modal notes and phrases that sing. Check these out on "Mechanical Trees" and "Place Of Serpents".
Ron Nelson marshals the band's attack on the drum riser superbly though it is interesting to note the sound of his kick - instead of the modern "click" most metal utilises, his is closer to that of an old-school "thud"; almost like a garage recording. Upon comparison of the pre-production version of "Rain Eater" and the Erik Rutan-produced album version, it is almost jarring and detrimental to the song. However, it is a grower - the mix is clear enough to allow the kick to be audible amongst the rest of the band and sounds rather refreshing to the usual metronomic click of modern metal kick drums. Jake Dieffenbach's vocals are solid, delivering a consistent, mechanical attack and spearheading the band's assault. Some might argue that his are a by-the-numbers approach, but, regardless of this, they work atop the maelstrom beneath. His vocals are particularly impressive on album closer "Airless"; an apt title as the band slows down to allow you to draw breath, yet the cold delivery of Dieffenbach riding the band'a bleak dissonance creates a stifling and desperate atmosphere. Air certainly seems at a premium here.
Naturally, an album produced by Rutan will sound incredible and it does - each instrument is clear, audible and balanced, and this is especially noticeable with Adam Biggs' bass. So many times in modern metal, the bass is mixed so low down (pardon the pun), that it is virtually inaudible amongst the higher frequencies. Yet here, and at all times, Biggs' can be heard and his bass lines, which both follow and contrast the guitars, add an extra dimension to the album. With 7-string guitars tuned down to F#, bass runs the extra risk of being lost but not so here. This is how you mix bass in metal.
With a mix of ferocity, grooves, atmosphere and a vicious vocal delivery, The Conscious Seed Of Light is a superb debut - RIVERS OF NIHIL can look forward to many years ahead rubbing shoulders amongst their inspirations as one of the highlights of modern death metal. The band have said that this album is one of a quadrilogy revolving around the four seasons - based on the icy bleakness on display here, the album revolving around winter will be most interesting. For now, the band can be full of the joys of spring with this excellent debut.
Review by Lee Carter