Tech death is just that, technical death metal. And though one could say that about most any genre, it's also one of the ones that has pretty firm roots that don't sway or stand in other territory too much. It happens though. Deathspell Omega's Paracletus was black metal as hell, but still dipped its evil foot into death metal to meet its Satanic serving ends. However, the genre has remained strong as ever and bands like Rivers of Nihil have consistently stepped up to keep things that way. And if you fancy your skull spinning around fret boards and bouncing off drum heads then enter: Monarchy.
For those that don't know, Reading, PA's Rivers of Nihil made a mark with their first full-length The Conscious Seed of Light. The album showcased solid song writing proficiency and earned them a pretty solid fan base. But I'll be honest, I wasn't an outright fan the first time I heard Rivers of Nihil. The Conscious Seed of Light came off as miraculous to some and as shoulder shrug to others. The execution never grabbed me the way something like Beyond Creation has. And those that didn't dig the shouted Adam Biggs vocals I felt myself sided with. And part of what can (unfortunately) kill any album is vocal styling. But that's personal preference (criticism, criticism). So what's Monarchy then? More of the same or something that's tightened itself and bloomed into an atom bomb?
The long and short of it is that Monarchy is a much tighter album than The Conscious Seed of Light. Though not so dramatic as an atom bomb about to go off, Monarchy is a technical death metal album that is bigger on all levels. Production has been kicked up and songs are both heavier and more technical. Whereas the band was once a lot more “stripped down” or “rough around the edges”, there is a massive improvement everywhere.
There's two things about Monarchy that are incredibly striking. The first is that this album is very heavy. The focus on technicality hasn't gone anywhere, if anything the band has upped themselves several notches. But there's seldom a moment where Monarchy doesn't come down with wrecking ball proficiency. Take “Ancestral, I” as an example. Like many of the songs this one jumps between killer riffage and scenic melodies, but every moment of it feels heavy. When there's soloing. When the band is charging straight forward. When the song is coming to an end, every moment feels like a strike to the shoulders. A marked achievement for both the band and the recording.
The other thing that is immediately striking, and straight off the bat in fact, is that Rivers of Nihil are kick ass at instrumental songs. The album opens with “Heirless”, a gorgeous two-and-a-half minute melody that spins a perfect web to draw the listener into. The other instrumental piece “Terrestria II Thrive” is one of the best songs the album has to offer. It's melodic and dreamlike but still has that that heavy kick Rivers of Nihil strut around with on this album. If they ever needed to, the band could drop a vocalist/lyricism altogether and make some of the most interesting, heavy and gorgeous music today.
Clocking in at fifty minutes total, Monarchy is an excellent slice of technical death metal. Everyone in Rivers of Nihil plays their instruments excellently and the strong bass prowess of Briggs cannot be stressed enough (and whose vocals on here are also vastly improved). Where in some bands a bass feels like an additive, here it feels like a necessity. Those that didn't find themselves quite digging The Conscious Seed of Light will likely walk out of Monarchy with a smile on their face. With Monarchy Rivers of Nihil have evolved into a monster.
As always, you can find me here.