Reviewed: October 2021
Released: 2021, Metal Blade Records
Reviewer: Lee Carter
Well, this has been coming and, after eight years, the cycle is finally complete: RIVERS OF NIHIL’s seasonal tetralogy has reached its end. Debuting with the spring-influenced ‘The Conscious Seed Of Light’, the band have seen their star rise since their introductory bow and over the course of the previous summer and autumn albums, and the release of the wintery ‘The Work’ sees them at the top of their game. With its predecessor, ‘Where Owls Know My Name’, earning the band deserved and widespread acclaim, it was always going to be interesting to see where they would go from there and how they would round out their long-form concept.
Where they do go is to further heights, because ‘The Work’ is a sublime body of work, and everything that encapsulates the band. At once harking back to the band’s heavier foundations, and expanding on their progressive influences, it’s a mark of their songwriting prowess that both can be handled without the expense of the other. Those familiar with the band’s earlier work will feel at home with bruisers such as the twisting “Dreaming Black Clockwork” and the relentless “MORE?”, yet these sit alongside lighter cuts such as “Tower 2” and the ballad-esque (yes, ballad-esque) “Maybe One Day”. Which is to say nothing of the proggier moments across the record.
What RIVERS OF NIHIL have always displayed since their debut is a penchant for more progressive forms of rock music, and their increasing use of melody was particularly notable down the years for offering this as an outlet. ‘…Owls…’ felt, in many ways, like a culmination of this, utilising the autumnal frame to drench the listener in melancholy and emotion at choice moments. With ‘The Work’, it is now part of the very fabric, so the light and shade turns of “The Void From Which No Sound Escapes” feels an exemplar in progressive metal writing. Whilst used elsewhere, albeit sparingly this time, the previously-introduced saxophone adds texture and nuance which only heightens what feels like a sense of resignation.
There have always been stories tied to RIVERS OF NIHIL albums, however the band are keeping the one here closer to their chest, but assuming a continuation of the story from ‘…Owls…’, one gets a sense of dreary acceptance of all that comes in life. A sentiment particularly apparent in the album highlight, “Episode”, that combines frenetic blasts, neat death metal riffs with a gargantuan finale and refrain of “do the work” (supported by James Dorton of BLACK CROWN INITIATE on vocals). Whilst there are regular reminders of the word “work” throughout the record, and an undercurrent drive to just get on with things despite the chaos, it is the closing “Terrestria IV: The Work” that could best encapsulate life – an almost-math metal frenzy of riffs at various speeds, slower, more pensive sections and a smile-inducing close that harks back to the very first “Terrestria: Thaw” back on ‘The Conscious Seed Of Light’.
Whether it is the artwork that lends its influence, or the fact this is the “winter” album, ‘The Work’ feels very much of the season. That is not to say that it is a completely cold body of music, but rather something that captures both the beauty and harshness of the coldest season. The field recordings that are used give a chill to the air, whilst the brighter, lighter moments across the album conjure images of a bright wintry day. As a result, it gives ‘The Work’ an added tightness – the songs have been well-crafted across the album’s runtime, but this overarching sense of place and purpose makes for a terrific listen. It may not have the same immediate emotional impact that ‘…Owls…’ did (though that may be due to external factors), ‘The Work’ delivers a fitting curtain call to what has been an exciting journey across four albums.
Where this leads RIVERS OF NIHIL to and what the future may hold is anyone’s guess. While there have been no suggestions the band will be packing this in anytime soon, ‘The Work’ would be one hell of a swansong were they to do so. Wonderful songwriting, thrilling forays into more progressive and even risky territories, as well as top-notch performances across the board, it is a fine addition to the band’s already-excellent catalogue. It goes to show that there is no substitute for graft, care and attention to put the best you can out there. An incredible ride.