REVIEW: RIVERS OF NIHIL @ THE DOME, LONDON (02.10.19)
When Rivers Of Nihil released Where Owls Know My Name last year, little did the Pennsylvanian metallers know that they would become one of the hottest names within technical and progressive metal. The album’s expansive and adventurous nature whilst remaining a heavy sound was met with critical acclaim and hailed as one of 2018’s best releases.
Flash forward a year later and, despite already touring this side of the Atlantic supporting Revocation at the end of last year, the band came back to our shores to celebrate that landmark release with a performance of the record in its entirety. The attention may have been focused majorly towards Rivers Of Nihil, as expected, but tonight's show at The Dome in London had four bands all doing similar but different things.
Orbit Culture had the task of kicking off proceedings. The Swedish death metallers hit the ground running and gave a solid opening set. Riffs oozed with ample grooves from guitarists Richard Hansson and Niklas Karlsson come thick and fast, really reminding me of The Blackening-era Machine Head, whilst Karlsson‘s growled vocals cut through the mix like a hot knife through butter. It was a very strong start to the evening and, with a warm reception, Orbit Culture can rest assured that their short but sweet opening set that night was a job well done.
ROCKODILE RATING: 9/10
There aren’t enough words in the English language to describe MØL. Since the release of last year’s debut album Jord the Danish blackgaze outfit are seemingly going from strength to strength, blowing audience’s minds at every venue they perform at. This tour marks a welcome return to our shores the band and, following festival performances at this year’s editions of ArcTanGent and 2000 Trees and last year’s Damnation Festival, it's become clear that the wind are very much in their collective sails.
From the instant MØL took to the stage, the quintet created a mesmerising and equally destructive atmosphere that was maintained throughout their set. Frederik Lippert and Nicolai Hansen are the architects for this - their guitar work ebbs and flows naturally from passages of tranquil bliss in the melodic-heavy leanings of "Bruma" to the rampaging black metal riffing in "Jord".
Speaking of "Jord", the song itself perfectly captures this finely-balanced flow in a bottle. Serving as the finale to a wonderful set, the way the track organically subsides from monolithic heaviness to passages of tear-jerking beauty is moving enough on record, but live, it’s impact is all the more powerful.
Whilst the band were firing on all cylinders, frontman Kim Song Sternkopf added another string to his bow with an effortless performance in fronting the band. A natural born frontman, he not only delivers his shrieks and growls to tremendous effect, but also commands the stage in a way that makes it near-impossible to take your eyes off him. From prowling the stage to diving into the crowd to get up close and personal with the crowd (a nice personal touch for the band’s blossoming UK fanbase), Kim‘s stage presence only enforced MØL‘s already stupendous live impact.
Judging from the sheer deafening applause upon their conclusion, it’s fair to say that MØL will only go from strength to strength.
ROCKODILE RATING: 9/10
Black Crown Initiate have been growing in strength considerably since their inception six years ago. 2016’s Selves We Cannot Forgive was an acclaimed success within the tech and progressive communities of heavy music, the band are a firm favourite and live, they reward the good faith from the community with a tightly knitted performance of precise yet crushing execution of their brand of progressive death metal. Their five song set covers the breadth of their discography and each expansive track displays a wealth of talent from the quintet.
Andy Thomas continuously dazzled the audience with his impressive guitar playing and his clean vocals were absolutely spot on. Nick Shaw‘s hefty bass tones kept the heaviness cranked up to the absolutely maximum and new boys Ethan McKenna and Sam Santiago‘s confident stage presence gave the impression that they’d been a part of the band for years, not months.
James Dorton however, is a different beast entirely. His stage presence is as menacing as his guttural vocal blasts. Acting as the perfect counter to Thomas‘ splashes of clean deliveries, Dorton injected a payload of ferocity into the proceedings and his occasional departure from the stage during the band’s more instrumental-leaning passages allow the crowd to fixate their attention to the impressive musicianship.
In a set that rarely lulled, Black Crown Initiate impressed throughout and with new single Years In Frigid Light sitting comfortably between their older material, it seems that their collective flame will continue to burn bright.
ROCKODILE RATING: 8/10
If this was any other show you could leave satisfied with what Black Crown Initiate, MØL and Orbit Culture brought to the table, but this all pales in comparison when it comes to Rivers Of Nihil. Given the monumental chance to hear Where Owls Know My Name performed in its entirety, the swirl of anticipation was the air. When the band hit the stage, I got the feeling that I was about to witness something truly special.
Indeed, special is the acceptable word when it comes to describe how Rivers Of Nihil translated their magnum opus to the stage. An opening salvo of an older cut "Soil & Seed" caught those expecting to hear the unsettling synths of the album’s introducing number off guard, but in fact it gave an early indicator towards the band’s technical chop. From there, the focus was directed firmly towards Where Owls Know My Name and the band more than delivered the goods. "The Silent Life" explosively kicked the celebrations off to a fabulous start as heads banged aplenty to the crunching mid-tempo chug from Brody Uttley and Jon Topore‘s guitars, complimentomg Jared Klein‘s ample double bass from the drums.
Frontman Jake Dieffenbach made an instant impression with his solid vocal execution too. As the music subsided into that glorious instrumental passage, a deafening roar greeted the arrival of Zach Strouse, who was providing the saxophone performances for this tour. He performed the sax elements to their sound impeccably, lending even more weight to an instrument that's only just recently found its footing in heavier music thanks to the work of bands like Shining (the Norwegian one).
After a truly remarkable opening, Rivers Of Nihil continued to work their way through their latest studio endeavour. Predictably, the execution was simply flawless. "A Home" gave us some brilliant technical flourishes in the guitar department, showing the sheer skill within the band’s repertoire. "Old Nothing" packed enough destructive force to level The Dome and the way in which "Subtle Change..." flowed from moments of sheer technical madness to slick jazz-esque instrumentals was a sight to behold.
Throughout this landmark performance, Rivers Of Nihil showed that they not only have the ability to replicate their expansive sound but they also have the ability to deliver it in a manner which came across so superbly well live. It is a tremendous achievement indeed. In a performance of sheer technical and progressive brilliance, Rivers Of Nihil not only excelled on the live front, but also served a reminder to just how incredible Where Owls Know My Name is as an album.
The benchmark has been set for progressive death metal. Rivers Of Nihil are the front runners and, judging from their execution of their craft as well as the thunderous applause they receive upon their conclusion, their peers within the world of death metal have some catching up to do!
ROCKODILE RATING: 10/10
Words by Tom Da Silva