Release Date: September 24, 2021 Genre: Progressive Metal, Technical Death Metal
Label: Metal Blade Records
The Reading, Pennsylvania-based metal quintet Rivers of Nihil are back after three years of writing and recording their fourth full-length record, The Work. Rivers of Nihil have never let themselves be locked into one corner of the metal genre, and they furthered that on their previous album, Where Owls Know My Name (2018). With The Work, the band has taken their sound even further past the norms of their ever-evolving sound into something of their own. For a third time in a row, Rivers of Nihil tapped Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland to co-produce the latest offering from the metal band. The album's guitars, synths, and keys were tracked at guitarist Brody Uttley's home studio, with the vocals, bass, drums, and saxophones tracked at Slovak's and McFarland's studio, Atrium Audio.
"The Tower (Theme from The Work)" opens the album with a subtle, atmospheric number. The track showcases just piano, a little guitar, mellow drums, and slight use of saxophones. Which the band tapped their friend Zach Strouse to lay down saxophones. The return of sax is something the band wanted to use again to add more texture to their music, but further than just a featured instrument. As the track builds, eventually it erupts, and the band's death metal roots shine. The following song, "Dreaming Black Clockwork," Rivers of Nihil dive right into the realm of progressive death metal. The track clocks in at six minutes and forty seconds, and it's primarily a death metal track with its fast, distorted guitar riffs and lightning-fast blast beats. However, the band's progressive elements shine with bouts of slow, atmospheric musical arrangements with slowed down, spaced-out clean singing. The spacey progressive metal number "Wait" changed things up quite entirely so far on The Work. "Wait" features a slower tempo, otherworldly sounding effects, and breezy layers of sax, combined with its beautiful duelling guitar solo and powerful clean vocals. It's an album highlight.
The album's two singles to date, "Focus" and "Clean," are both different from each other in ways. "Focus" is another overall progressive track, pulling away from the traditional sound the band has come to be known for. "Focus" is chock full of heavy with its bold guitars, bass, and drums. A notable feature of this song that makes it stand out among the rest is the chorus. It features layers of both clean vocals and screams/growls over each other. A fun, different dynamic to the songwriting seen on the album. The song -written by the band's lyricist and bassist Adam Biggs- lyrically touches on his relationship with drugs, starting with being medicated for ADD as a child. Whereas "Clean" takes the band's back to their technical death metal roots. While the song still has those new elements of progressive metal overall, the track is incredibly fast in its first half and immensely heavy. The middle and second half of the number is where things get interesting with its songwriting. "Clean" uses synth for this '80s-style sci-fi/horror movie song in the direct middle of the track. It's endlessly eerie and mysterious. Following to close out "Clean" is a blistering, fantastic guitar solo and ushers in the track to take shape back to death metal.
"The Void From Where No Sound Escapes" features the only "real" saxophone solo on the entirety of The Work. The rest of the saxophone heard on the album uses baritone, soprano, and alto saxes together. Furthermore, "The Void From Where No Sound Escapes" also features some cello from producer Grant McFarland. The track "MORE?" is the album's only full technical death metal song from start to finish. On the second-longest song -with a length of seven and a half minutes- "Episode" features additional vocals provided by Black Crown Initiate frontman James Dorton. The track is another progressive metal and death metal hybrid. With some brutal vocal work and equally fascinating guitar work, but the jazzy outro ties it all together sonically. Additionally to the album's features, Uttley's friend Stephan Lopez helped out with all of the field recordings used on The Work, one of the fundamental parts of the sonic textures heard on the band's newest eleven tracks.
The album's penultimate number, "Maybe One Day," is one of the most progressive on The Work. Practically a progressive rock number with very minimal screaming, it features the most unique guitar on the entire album. "Maybe One Day" is also one of the only tracks on the record to use an acoustic guitar. It's folky, proggy, and thoroughly atmospheric. The Work closes out with "Terrestria IV: Work," the album's lengthiest track coming in at a whopping eleven and a half minutes and the fourth installment in the band's Terrestria saga. "Terrestria IV: Work" blends a little bit of everything the album has to offer into one massive musical piece. It's proggy, it's fast, and it's certainly at most, extremely heavy, exactly how the entire album is.