Back when the first Rivers of Nihil album released, my readers were pretty split. The enthusiastic ones notified me of its existence and others scoffed at it being vapid metalcore. I never got around to formally reviewing it, but I did like it quite a bit. They managed to achieve a good balance of heavy and brutal elements with melody and technical solos.
I jumped on Monarchy to find out what they’d been up to since their debut. I have to say, I have pretty mixed feelings. Let’s start with the bad. They seem to have caught the chugging fad going around. Maybe this was present on the debut, but I don’t recall it sticking out like this.
Chugging on a single note or chord in various rhythmic patterns doesn’t do it for me. It is a strange phenomenon that so many bands succumb to it. I guess it probably feels impressive to lock in a sufficiently complicated pattern and get it to groove. This may sound interesting to some people. But it ignores too many aspects of music to make for interesting repeated listens. The album doesn’t have a ton of this, but I have to cringe when it happens. It sticks out.
Now for the good. The album has a lot more variety than the first one. They have straight up death metal parts, highly melodic parts, atmospheric parts, different tempos, and these disparate sections flow into each other naturally.
The soloing is as good as ever, and I think these form the highlights for the album. Some solos are slow meanderings around the melodic idea. Others are technical, chromatic, bizarre distortions. I hear the most creative ideas in the solos, and they are sparse enough to be a nice treat. They are placed where they are needed, not in some stock position of every song.
Speaking of which, the songs can feel a bit formulaic. You have fast, chugging rhythms in drums and bass. A held chord fills out the sound, and then some extraneous atmosphere in the upper register like a held single note with a filtered synthetic guitar sound. The song structure usually alternates between staccato forms of the above and a heavier legato form.
I love what they’re doing when they are at their most complex. They can layer a lot of technical and varied ideas in such a tight way that the whole thing still has a relaxed groove to it. This is what they do best. It feels lazy when they settle into the uninteresting chugging parts. It’s almost as if they needed some filler to complete some songs.
Overall, the added atmosphere is welcomed. The tight melodic playing has been stepped up a notch, but the album as a whole has not gone in the right direction. I can only reservedly recommend this. I’ll give it a 7/10.
Here’s a sample: