In a movement famously riddled with narrowly prescriptive genre norms and conventions, it’s always a rare pleasure to witness acts of pure, unfettered creativity in motion. And as the searing-white glare of the stage lights fades to black and a tell-tale hush descends on a venue audibly buzzing with anticipation, it’s clear we’re moments away from witnessing something quite spectacular here this evening.
Effortlessly melding and intermingling elements as varied as violently percussive death metal, densely churning subterranean groove and impeccably arranged lashings of sumptuous progressive fretwork, it’s easy to appreciate why North America’s Rivers of Nihil have proven such a mesmerising draw this early October evening, with a fully sold out venue signalling an exceptionally promising start to tonight’s proceedings. Tasked with the considerable challenge of performing genre-smashing new opus ‘Where Owls Know My Name’ in its brutal, gorgeously entrancing entirety, the reported absence of one of this talented unit’s number does nothing to dull the dazzling brilliance that defines their impeccable set from the get-go.
Among the various, darkly magnetic gems being lavishly laid before us in glimmering, multifaceted abundance, ingeniously arranged title track ‘Where Owls Know My Name’ is awash with lush, tenderly disarming vocal harmonies and sultry wisps of distortion that flood the senses with subtly affecting warmth and intensity. Then, with all the seamlessly practised ease and nimble-fingered dexterity of a master conjurer, we’re plunged headlong into a scalding inferno of caustic screams and bass-laden aggression whose weightily majestic throes leave the venue quaking to its very foundations. But for all these dizzying extremes of gnarly aggression and raw, incandescent energy, Nihil’s careful attention to timing and restraint in all the right places ensure these aggressive dynamics never overshadow the finer details of their compositionally inventive set.
Having sent listeners blissfully spiralling into orbit on the gilded, airily spiralling lines of this genre-straddling beast of a title track, ‘The Silent Life’ promptly pummels us into submission through great, hulking slabs of violently brutalising bass groove. With its every churning, violently contorted motion abounding with brutally expansive majesty, its richly unfurling, Pink Floyd-tinged whorls of guitar propel and elevate this piece to the stuff of sheer, stirringly evocative euphoria. And from these sumptuous, fluidly unravelling leads through to ‘A Home’s’ deft counterbalancing of pounding, aggression and eerily transporting atmospherics, again and again we’re struck by Rivers of Nihil’s rare and wondrous talent for blending seemingly disparate musical dynamics to seamlessly orchestrated effect. Every inch the brutal and beautiful spectacle we’d been waiting for.