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Progspot #2: Rivers of Nihil, Ever-Weaving and Effortlessly Enigmatic

Rivers of Nihil. Photo credit: Andrew Rothmund
Rivers of Nihil. Photo credit: Andrew Rothmund

What is it that makes progressive metal so fascinating yet so contentious? Perhaps its inclination toward conceptual grandiosity and meticulously structured compositions turn some off from the style, but it is for these very same reasons that its disciples are so obsessive and meticulous in their understanding of its compositions. Maneuvering its way into every subgenre, it emerges through myriad guises across the globe and across time yet maintains no definite image or form; a creative force that is constantly focused on forward evolution inevitably transcends these boundaries.

Thus, the goal of Progressive Spotlight (or just Progspot) is to examine prog not as any concrete pre-existing category, subgenre, or style, but rather as an inventive, forward-thinking attitude toward the creation and presentation of music as art. Taking this more holistic approach, Progspot seeks to thoroughly analyze and dissect the cutting edge of innovative modern metal one specimen at a time, shedding light into their enigmatic corridors in order to understand their continued evolution.

As I continue to venture deeper and deeper into the complexities of my own fascination with extreme metal, I increasingly realize that what keeps drawing me back into the genre year after year is its esoteric sense of mystery, its manifold hidden dualities. Its internal and external aspects are seemingly contradictory, for concealed within its grotesque and brutish husk are genuine heartfelt expressions spanning the breadth of human experience, from the intellectual, to the melancholic, to the primal. My own immersion into the cavernous realm of death metal was gradual and rather uncanny; a lifelong seeker of complexity and innovation, I initially gravitated toward the off-kilter stylings of sludge, prog, and post-metal to satisfy my itch for the unusual. Throughout the early stages of my relationship with metal, I was only familiar with a small handful of death metal’s lowest-common-denominator acts, and thus made the simple mistake of taking their music at face value as a gratuitous and tasteless interpretation of metal overall.

Everything changed when I confronted the sprawling grandeur of technical death metal in the form of The Faceless’s seminal magnum opus Planetary Duality. Serving as my definitive rite of passage into the spiraling void of tech-death, the record’s frenetic speed and musical versatility pumped my veins with adrenaline and filled my soul with a ravenous enthusiasm unmatched by anything I had heard before. Thanks to the incredible musicianship and clarity of tone executed by all five of the group’s members, something deep within me finally connected to the fiery voraciousness and unrelenting speed of one of metal’s most extreme forms, permanently altering the course of my life to come.

When I at last began to fully explore the annals of tech-death, I was frustrated to realize that many of the genre’s greatest treasures lay in the past. At the advent of the 2010s, the more extreme end of metal’s contemporary landscape was besieged by a wave of topical fads and surface-level trends. Spearheaded by an aesthetic movement nostalgically referred to as Sumerian-core (named for the record label that first popularized the sound), uninspired metalcore, deathcore, and djent reigned supreme among younger metal fans for largely superficial reasons, just as nu-metal had ten years prior. Even the self-professed “technical” or “progressive” bands of this wave often utilized intricacy in poor taste, creating over-produced and mechanically sterile music that rarely conveyed true profundity. I desperately pursued a modern interpretation of the enthralling organic mix of innovation and raw savagery first pioneered by groups such as Death, Gorguts, and Spawn of Possession, but for several years my search was largely fruitless – nothing new seemed to truly satisfy my cravings.

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In early 2014, however, the tides of change surged forth yet again, and in the midst of this uninspired wasteland an oasis came into view: Rivers of Nihil. Gaining considerable traction within several starkly contrasting circles of metal fandom was The Conscious Seed of Light, a debut full-length album from a then-more obscure group. Lauded by followers of tech-death, OSDM, and deathcore alike, this enigmatic record spread like wildfire after its release, transcending boundaries that, at the time, seemed insurmountable.

I must admit that my own initial attraction to Conscious Seed of Light can largely be attributed to its awe-inspiring album art painted by legendary death metal artist Dan Seagrave who typically collaborates with more progressive, otherworldly death metal acts. That said, once I sat down with the record and let myself be fully absorbed by its bizarre aural scenery, I knew that Rivers of Nihil’s defiance of convention ran much deeper than their peculiar aesthetic. Tucked within its ten tracks were the first suggestions of a more forward-thinking interpretation of that era’s tired tropes, an ethereal yet organic parade of gorgeous brutality rife with fresh, virile motifs and blisteringly abstract instrumental gymnastics. With their very first album, the group struck an adroit balance that was potent… but not yet perfected. And although I could not immediately elicit the entirety of the album’s meaning, I could sense the presence of complex and earnest philosophical messages lying just below the surface of the record’s densely constructed passageways.

Despite its gutsy, turbulent attitude, The Conscious Seed of Light represented a major turning point for Rivers of Nihil, marking the first step of their transition from impressive young Mid-Atlantic outfit to internationally celebrated headlining act. Formed in Reading, Pennsylvania in 2009, the group established themselves as a foundational constituent of the surprisingly prodigious southern Pennsylvania prog-death movement that began to take shape nearly ten years ago. Along with Black Crown Initiate (who played their inaugural show with Rivers of Nihil in July 2013), Rivers of Nihil is one of the scene’s major breakout entities, having first risen to local prominence with two EPs in 2010 and 2011, respectively titled Hierarchy and Temporality Unbound. Though the group’s early work bears little resemblance to their more recent material, it was vitally essential in laying the groundwork for the incomparable Rivers of Nihil of today.

Since my earliest encounters with their elusively captivating brand of death metal, I have been closely devoted to the band’s growth and progress, always waiting in eager anticipation to consume their next offering of atmospherically lush sonic artwork. It came as an unparalleled honor, therefore, to have the privilege of speaking in-depth with two of the group’s founding members, guitarist Brody Uttley and bassist Adam Biggs, about Rivers of Nihil’s storied legacy and unceasingly tireless forward progress. I met with the band on the first leg of their latest Pan-American tour at Moe’s Barbecue in Englewood, Colorado, a 300-person restaurant/music joint just south of the Denver city limit; due to the establishment’s lack of a greenroom and the excessively noisy throng filling its every orifice (the show had sold out earlier that same day), Uttley, Biggs, and I opted to move our discussion into the intimate space of the Rivers of Nihil tour van.

In order to more fully understand the context of Rivers of Nihil from their own perspective, I began by asking Uttley to contemplate the greater framework of his and his bandmates experiences with the band since its inception. I wanted to know which aspects of the group’s identity (if any) had remained constant, and what elements had undergone a radical change in those ten years since they first embarked on this now-prolific odyssey.

It’s been a whole decade since your initial formation. How would you compare the 2019 “now” Rivers of Nihil versus 2009 when you were first starting out and trying to get your footing? What’s changed, and what’s stayed the same?

Brody: Man, more like what hasn’t changed. When I hear those older demos, it’s like a different band to me. Back then we were very much emphasizing the hyper-technical, hyper-speed, hyper-slaminess of the stuff, you know? I know we always tried to focus on songwriting, but I don’t think we necessarily had it dialed in as well back then. Obviously the lineup has changed; there’s three original members in the band now [Uttley, Biggs, and vocalist Jake Dieffenbach] and then we have Jared [Klein] our drummer, he’s been with us for two years, and Jon [Topore] our guitar player for four years. I feel like through the various incarnations of the band, just getting older and changing influences has formed and sculpted the band into what it is today. Like I said, I feel like we’re a totally different band. If anything’s remained, it’s that we still love us some blast beats, so that hasn’t changed. I know when a lot of bands move in a progressive direction, they kinda ditch the death metal traditions; I don’t think we really did that. We kept a lot of that around even on the newest record, which has the fastest song we’ve ever done as a band. So I guess that’s some energy left over from the early days maybe? Other than that, it’s so different to all of us.

Well It’s good to stick to your core essence and build on that rather than destroying it and building something new. Over the past ten years, how have you seen the landscape of technical and progressive death metal evolve? How have people’s attitudes toward the genre changed, and what’s changed within the music itself?

Brody: I don’t really know if it has anything to do with the scene or if it’s just our fans growing with us; I feel like in the early days when we started, when deathcore was still a very, very popular genre of metal, some of the more progressive moments that we tried back in those days didn’t really go over as well with audiences, because back then they were really focused on the brutality of stuff. We definitely had those parts but I feel like our more progressive stuff back then didn’t really connect as well as it does now. And like I said, I don’t know if it’s because our fanbase has grown with us over the years or if the general tides of the scene have shifted, but I do feel like people have gotten more open-minded about progressive music. Whether it’s a result of your bigger-tier modern progressive bands, be it Animals as Leaders, or Between the Buried and Me, or TesseracT, or those bands gaining pretty immense popularity, maybe that has something to do with people being more open-minded to progressive elements in metal. I feel like in general people have become more accepting, but it could just be the fact that they’ve just grown with us.

It’s almost a nature vs. nurture issue, like “are we leading them to this or is it naturally happening?”

Brody: Yeah it’s hard to say. I could definitely say for a fact that if we brought a saxophone player out on stage in 2009 we would have gotten laughed at. But I think there’s something to be said for a kind of gradual climb as a band, I think the fact that we started as a pretty heavy death metal band that gained the trust and quote on quote “popularity” of our local scene as that type of band, that helped us get our foot in the door of the scene in general and we kinda just grew from there. Yeah, it’s hard to say if it was nature or nurture, but I guess you could see it either way.

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Despite the constant fluctuation of elements comprising Rivers of Nihil, it is deeply encouraging to hear from the band themselves that their core vision and ethos are still as focused and unwavering as when they began. The group’s recurring conceptual references to the natural inevitability of growth and change are reflected in their devotion to the continual development of a central identity; the pulse-pounding, breakneck energy originally introduced on Conscious Seed of Light has been conserved immaculately throughout their discography, though it has mutated and evolved into a wildly unrecognizable diversity of forms.

Soon after wrapping up the album cycle for their first record, Rivers of Nihil quickly took up the challenging task of simultaneously streamlining and expanding their sound into the much more contemplative, scorching, arid prog-tech grandeur that would eventually be showcased on their second full-length, 2015’s Monarchy. Eschewing much of its predecessor’s homogeneous texture and unhinged insanity, the band elected to hone their guttural sound by hewing off the rough, uneven edges that plagued much of their early material while also broadening their emotional and atmospheric scope. Allowing more breathing room in which to explore a much wider variety of textures and emotions, Monarchy flattened listeners with the striking degree of maturation Rivers of Nihil had achieved in the relatively brief interval between their debut and sophomore albums. It also thrust the group into the death metal limelight, elevating them from their status as a highly distinguished underground entity to one of the most notable forerunners of the now-widespread stylistic trend of powerfully emotive atmospheric death metal, a movement that in 2015 was still in its infancy.

Furthermore, Monarchy’s grueling pace, extended length, and passages of shimmering desert psychedelia helped to emphasize the seasonal concept of the album; standing as the second installment in a four-record cycle, the sonic techniques and methodologies utilized on Monarchy all contributed to a representation of both the literal and figurative implications of summer. The conceptual side to Rivers of Nihil’s sophomore record was so well-executed that it even aided in contextualizing the spring-oriented themes of Conscious Seed of Light, retrospectively contrasting the latter’s spry and frenzied nature against its hefty compositional style. The group’s unswerving commitment to advancement and progression is undoubtedly their greatest collective strength, and is mirrored identically in the continued narrative of their music.

Seeking to gain greater insight into the band’s eccentric process, I asked Uttley to describe how his own approach to songwriting and musical arrangement had developed from album to album, and to detail some of the new strategies he had adopted along the way.

How has your attitude changed, personally and as a group, toward your efforts in crafting novel, progressive music that ventures in a totally new direction?

Brody: I guess we’ve gotten a lot better at diagnosing problems that we’re having when we’re writing. Me and Biggs, our bassist, we have a pretty good relationship when it comes to writing stuff. A lot of times I’ll send stuff to our other guitar player Jon and I’ll want a legitimate critical opinion of it and he’ll just be like “wow that’s awesome!” It’s like thanks, but that’s not helpful. Whereas Biggs, if I send him something and it’s terrible he’ll be like “that’s terrible; it doesn’t sound like us, it’s stupid.” So I think we’ve gotten a lot better at being honest with each other and not getting offended by it. Back in the day if we were to do that, it probably would have turned into a screaming match at practice. I’ve gotten a lot better at recording: I’ve recorded guitar and bass on our last two records, and I think me learning how to record has really streamlined the writing process for us, whereas before we all wrote in a room together and would argue about stuff, and never get anything done. Over the last ten years, we’ve really gotten honest with ourselves, honest with each other. If it works, use it; if it doesn’t work, ditch it. That’s kinda how we’ve learned to operate.

In that creative process, what draws you to the more avant-garde, experimental side of death metal? Do you intentionally strive to make your music more progressive, or does it naturally come from what you’re inclined to create?

Brody: I think that it’s kind of happened naturally, specifically on this latest record. We just threw our hands up in the air and said “let’s just put whatever happens on the record. If people hate it then whatever.” We had several lineup changes during our last album cycle, and a lot of the stuff we ended up doing on that last record was kinda underwhelming. So we were in a position where we’re just like whatever, let’s do whatever we want. I think the sound of that record, the more progressive sound happened organically. I know a bunch of us are big fans of early prog bands, so that’s always gonna be in our musical DNA, and I think the fact that we didn’t have any reservations about doing whatever we wanted on a record let those influences come out in a cool and organic way. And that’s in addition to having cool guest musicians on the record: sax player Zach, or trumpet player Sean, or Andy Thomas from Black Crown Initiate. All those communal contributions really inspired the record to take shape the way it did.

Do you have any musical inspirations from the past or the present that specifically inspired some of the directions you’ve chosen to explore with Rivers of Nihil?

Brody: I mean, Pink Floyd is probably my favorite band, just their entire career. I can always find something about what that band has done that I like, even if it’s on a record I don’t like as much, I can still find something to appreciate. That band has always been a source of inspiration to me. All that classic prog stuff is, like I said before, it’s always gonna have some influence on what we’re doing. We’re not deliberately shoehorning the prog elements into our sound, I find that we’ve become pretty aware of when it’s time to be a death metal band and when it’s time to have those more open proggy sections. I think that for me, personally, one band that I’m always inspired by is Pink Floyd.

Do you use any specific techniques in your songwriting process that you use to get yourself into a more creative, original headspace?

Brody: I really try not to listen to too much other stuff when we’re writing, just because I like to try to keep my head clear. There’s always gonna be influences, know what I mean? You’ll never be able to get those out of what you’re writing. If I’m listening to anything when I’m writing, I try to have it be something that’s an old favorite of mine, rather than listening to what’s new and current and going on in the scene. I definitely try to isolate myself in that way, musically. And I guess just being comfortable – I have a studio set up at my house, and having that space is really inspiring to me, because I can roll out of bed, get some coffee, and just start writing stuff if I’m in the mood. Having the studio around really helps, the creative zone thing kinda just happens without warning, so it’s nice to have it in my house.

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As Uttley explained the various benefits of his own accrued experiences, such as the intimacy of his personal studio and the band members’ increased sense of patience and mindfulness, I started to understand that the true source of Rivers of Nihil’s ceaseless consistency came from their high prioritization of good communication and active collaboration between band members. By placing the importance of their music above personal disagreements and biases, they continue to thrive and flourish where others stagnate. With the group’s meteorically creative trajectory and individualistic approach to songwriting, few doubted that Monarchy’s successor would catapult their sound into unexplored, cosmically progressive territory. But even my own loftiest fantasies could never have predicted the mind-boggling deluge of innovation that was unleashed through their latest effort, last year’s Where Owls Know My Name (bonus: our original review).

Within the span of six years, the possibilities hinted in the group’s debut album had expanded into an actualization of the grandeur and potential fueling their core. While each of their records offers its own assortment of distinctively idiosyncratic technical and progressive flavors, Where Owls Know My Name represents Rivers of Nihil’s breakthrough into the auspicious plane on which they now reside, garnering critical acclaim and worldwide recognition, the magnitude of which the group had yet to experience. Each song on the album meditates on passionate songwriting, concrescing into an overarching work that portrays the punishing speed and heaviness of their previous material through a widened palette of ambient textures awash with lugubrious sentimentality. Borrowing alternative instrumentations and stylistic expressions from not only the various remote corners of metal, but the wider spectrum of music as a whole, this album launched the band’s sound lightyears ahead of anything they’ve done before. It showcases considerable musical advancement, a bolder sense of experimentation, and an extremely personal and introspective element to the Rivers of Nihil sound that balances more savage moments with considerable emotional heft.

Before delving into the true meat of Where Owls Know My Name, I felt that I first needed to clarify its philosophical relationship to autumn, and thus its context in the greater scheme of the band’s seasonal album cycle. While I initially directed my thematic and lyrical inquiries toward Uttley, he took a step back to allow Biggs to give a more comprehensive explanation of the psychological concepts driving the deeper meaning of the record.

Where Owls Know My Name seems to occupy a much more intimate space than your previous two albums: do you feel you’re now drawing more inspiration from your heart and souls in addition to your intellect?

Brody: I think it’s definitely a more personal record, I don’t write any lyrics (that’s all Biggs). I’m just a music guy, but from what I understand of the lyrics, it was more of a personal record for him. The fact that the album art for our previous two records have been landscapes, whereas this new record is a close-up of an entity’s face. It sets the tone for the record, this is basically the story of this being on the album cover, so I think the fact that it’s central focus is on this individual makes it inherently more personal from the get-go. Musically, when I was writing the songs, it was definitely much more of a feeling-oriented record, less fiery, technical, and riff-based and more of a mood kind of thing. I think both conceptually and musically it was much more personal.

With the four-album cycle, what are some of the major philosophical themes, beyond just the movement of the seasons?

Brody: That might be a good question for Biggs…

Adam: It’s really just a metaphor for a life, you know, for aging and eventual death. It’s that kind of theme on top of the seasonal idea. It’s also semi-reflective of the band’s movement through time itself, how we view our lives through that lens, that seasonal lens, and how things have changed over time for us as well.

So there’s a personal side to it for you as individuals, is there also a macrocosmic side to it, with it being told as a story of the world as a whole?

Adam: There is that, but I feel like it’s become less of a focus over time. I had a pretty clear vision of where the story was going to go from the beginning, but as it happens, you get halfway, three-quarters of the way into a ten-year thing, and you change your mind about stuff. Which I’m totally fine with: at this point I don’t know exactly where it’s going, but hopefully it’s somewhere exciting and good.

With Biggs’s points on the album’s lyrical themes in mind, I shifted my focus to the band’s mental setting heading into the processes of writing and recording. I wanted to know what had inspired the catharsis channeled through their soul-purging music, and how the group had so effectively blended their raw, organic songwriting with such impeccably refined sound engineering and production. Despite its impressively massive scope, Where Owls Know My Name‘s compositions are bound together by a wickedly coherent sense of flow, never betrayed by scattered or haphazard arrangements. I also asked Uttley to detail which aspects of the record he and the rest of the group were specifically proud of. As I suspected, many of his answers made direct reference to the band’s newfound yearning to express their innermost creative will.

What was your mindset leading into to the compositional process for Where Owls Know My Name? What is the record’s musical intention?

Brody: Biggs and I basically record the whole album at my studio before we enter the big studio. So we basically go into the studio with a finished product, and then most of the on-the-spot creative things on the record happened during the vocal recordings. I wasn’t really there for a lot of the vocal stuff, but from what I gather they didn’t necessarily plan for there to be clean vocals on the record. I guess the way they ended up sounding was, in a big way, because of working with Grant [McFarland]. He’s the guy who recorded the vocals, he’s very good at arranging and stuff like that. I can’t really say personally how I felt going in — I felt like I was on vacation, because I was done recording my guitar parts, and it was time for drums. At that point I was wanting to be supportive of Jared who was recording drums and Jake who was doing vocals, and working with Carson to get the best possible representation of the music mix-wise on the record. I just tried to keep my head clear during that time. I think we all had our heads in the game, we knew what we wanted, heard it in our minds, and I think it came out pretty close to how we envisioned it.

What were some big risks or experiments you took that felt momentous during the creative process? Were they any standout moments?

Brody: There’s a few technical things that are kinda cool that I was stoked on and surprised by. For one of the songs we ran a cello through a super-distorted high-gain amplifier. There’s a lot of cello on the record, it’s just kind of hidden. On “Terrestria III,” there’s these big, like, “BONGs” — that’s actually a cello running through a guitar amp. That was pretty neat. There’s one thing on the record that a lot of people don’t even realize is on there: we have these interviews that are kinda playing in the background, where we had people answer questions that we compiled. They’re in the first song, the last song, and on “Terrestria III”; it’s hard to distinguish what they’re saying, but we asked them questions like, “How do you envision the world changing after your death?” and “What is your greatest regret?” and “What’s the one thing that you’re most terrified of?” We asked them those questions and basically laced their answers into the album. It’s very subtle, but that was one of my favorite things about the record that was a little last minute, impromptu. So that was cool, and literally no one’s noticed it. I’m stoked on that, but I think a lot of the risks we took were vocal risks, and obviously the saxophone.

Were all the clean vocals done by Andy Thomas?

Brody: No, just on the first little bit of the title track. Everything else was done by Biggs, Jake, and Jared. Jared does most of the high vocals on the record, and he’s actually doing them live with us as well.

As for the recording process of this record, did the methods of production and engineering differ at all from your last albums? I know your team was essentially the same, but with a few added musicians.

Brody: We actually recorded the new album with three different people. Most of it was record by Carson and Grant: the drums, vocals, and mixing were all done by Carson and Grant at Atrium Audio. I recorded the guitar and bass at my studio, we recorded some acoustic guitars with Nick (who plays bass for Black Crown Initiate), we recorded the trumpet and saxophone parts with my friend Jordan Strawb who owns a studio, and kinda just compiled them all into one thing at the very end. There were more moving parts this time around, but generally it was the same as what we did on our previous record Monarchy, [we] did everything beforehand and just went into the studio and got work done.

There’s many routes by which you could have conveyed that decaying, autumnal aesthetic, but you decided to choose a more jazzy, atmospheric space. What sent you in that direction, and why did you feel that was the best way to convey these ideas?

Brody: I don’t think it was an intentional thing, that wasn’t something where we said “how do we portray fall in a musical sense?” It kinda happened in an organic way. Maybe adding some different elements like the Mellotron — which to me is a very somber, moody instrument — I think that contributes a very glum and autumny sheen to the record. As far as the jazzier parts, specifically with the saxophone, they were kind of just happy accidents. We had these big open sections, didn’t have any clue what to do with them, so I basically just sent them to my friend Zach who plays saxophone. I was like, “what do you think about this?” and he sent me back him noodling around, and I thought “wow, that sounds really good.” I think a lot of the record was just kind of a happy accident, we let happened happen and didn’t put any restrictions on it. If there’s one thing to be said it’s that the album starts and ends the same way. The same thing happens in “Terrestria III,” there’s that same melody. That was something we wanted to maintain throughout the record, the central themes and chord progressions that we had going on. Embodying a season is a difficult thing to do, but I think a lot of the stuff that ended up making it sound that way happened organically, by accident really.

Looking into the future, do you see your next record — the winter movement of your album cycle – leaning more into the melodic, acoustic side of your sound, or will it strike a blackened, oppressive aesthetic? Perhaps both?

Brody: I think that winter can be a very confusing time of year: you can have sunny skies and mild temps one day, and then the next day it can just be an insane snowstorm. So I think maybe the record will try to embody those elements as best it can, but as far as what specific kinda sounds we’re gonna be working with, I’m not really sure yet. Honestly since this record’s come out, we’ve been on the road pretty solid and haven’t had a whole lot of time to write. We’ve been brainstorming together, we have a lot of ideas but nothing specific. I think that if there’s any comparison to the season of winter, it’s that there’s the contrast between brutal, freezing cold and not-too-bad, sun’s out.

I reserved the final moments of my discussion with the duo to consider the radical, lightning-quick rise in popularity and meaningful attention received by Rivers of Nihil during their current album cycle. With the amount of love and fervent support the outfit has seen in the past year, their very tangible and poignant impact upon the hearts of their fans has already proven them as a lasting entity that will only continue to grow and billow outward in riveting new directions. To conclude our conversation, I asked them to what degree they felt that their ten years of devotion to this arcane craft had paid off, and to illustrate their own perspective on the astonishing magnitude to which their identity as an outfit has changed as of late.

Regarding your touring schedule, you guys have indeed been on the road pretty consistently since March 2018 when the record was officially released. How would you compare this tour cycle with that of Monarchy? Has the size of your audiences, as well as their response to your music, changed at all?

Brody: Big, big time. The last record cycle was kind of rough for us. There were definitely good tours we did on it, but nothing like… I mean, as soon as the new record came out, it was such as noticeable shift, both reaction-wise, turnout-wise, the amount of people that were buying merchandise from us – it was a pretty monumental shift. This show tonight in Denver sold out: there’s absolutely no way that would have happened on the last record cycle. Since we’ve released this record, it’s definitely changed big time for us.

The sax player traveling with you on this run, Patrick Corona, isn’t the same individual who recorded sax tracks on the record. How did decide to collaborate with him for the live tour?

Brody: Patrick actually plays in a band called Cyborg Octopus. They’re really sick. Jared our drummer has been friends with him, and Jared actually played on the Cyborg Octopus record. He recommended Patrick to us, he was like “he’s sick and he’s a really nice dude.” We basically just put him on a plane and forced him to come on tour with us.

And you got some rehearsal time in, right?

Brody: Yeah we practiced for like four or five days before we left and ironed out the issues. We’re about a week in, so I think things are getting dialed in pretty well now.

Even a few years ago, did you ever expect to see this level of growth and success as quickly as you have?

Brody: No, not at all. We were pretty damn convinced that people were gonna hate this record. When you’re in your own space and you don’t have outside opinions, you get in your own head and you get cabin fever. We were just like “what are we doing? There’s saxophones and trumpets and freakin’ keyboards… are we crazy?” So no, I definitely didn’t see any of it coming. Even on this tour, we’re turning up and the promoters are like, “oh, it’s sold out tonight,” and we’re like “what?”

We’re not really used to that, so we really didn’t expect any of it. But it’s cool that it’s working out the way it is.

What are your biggest goals and aspirations during this record cycle and heading into the next album?

Brody: Just to keep changing our sound; we don’t wanna make the same record twice, ever. That’s always been our main goal, but I think on the rest of this album cycle, I want us to give people an experience. I’ve seen a lot of bands, a lot of concerts in my lifetime, and I’m not a religious person or really a spiritual person at all, but I’ve had semi-spiritual experiences at concerts, and that’s always a really cool feeling. If there’s any way we can do that for someone out there, just have somebody be completely swallowed by the record live, that would probably be one of the coolest things for me.

Is there anything else you wanted to mention about the album, or about Rivers of Nihil in general?

Brody: We’re on tour for another four weeks, so if you’re in town wherever we’re playing, definitely come out and get tickets early if you can, because a bunch of these shows have been selling out. We’re gonna be in Australia and New Zealand in May with Ne Obliviscaris, Allegaeon, and Beyond Creation, and we’ve got some other announcements coming up for the summer and fall, so stay tuned.

Rivers of Nihil. Photo credit: Andrew Rothmund
Rivers of Nihil. Photo credit: Andrew Rothmund

It was an enlightening experience to speak with Rivers of Nihil, to be given the opportunity to learn not only about the creative process behind their own brand of death metal, but also their attitudes toward musical integrity, professionalism, and the arduous yet deeply rewarding path of the artist. As a faithful and longtime fan of the band, it warms my heart to see them not only weathering the ferocious and unforgiving winds of time, but finding such immense success while doing so.

With every consecutive release, Rivers of Nihil has taken major steps forward and outward, always without sacrificing an ounce of their disciplined focus on the experimental and the avant-garde. Like a metaphor for the nature of life itself, they have never for a moment strayed from their central mission of constant evolution and innovation, refusing to look backward and unwilling to compromise any aspect of their fierce and intrepid nature.

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