The 25 Best Metal Albums of 2010 – 2019, #9: Rivers of Nihil, Where Owls Know My Name

  • Axl Rosenberg

MetalSucks recently polled nearly 180 prominent metal musicians and industry insiders to determine The 25 Best Metal Albums of 2010 – 2019! (You can read all about the voters and the methodology behind the poll here.) Over the next few weeks, we’ll be counting down the entire list, one entry per day.

The countdown continues today with Where Owls Know My Name (Metal Blade), the 2018 release from Rivers of Nihil!

Every so often, a band makes a record that feels like not just the defining statement of their career-to-date, but of the very subgenre they inhabit. Rivers of Nihil’s Where Owls Know My Name is one such album. It is the evolutionary endpoint of everything death metal has done to date, a decade of Summer Slaughter tours summed up in one unfuckwithable release that is mercilessly heavy, intimidatingly technical, and occasionally djenty. It also includes sexy saxophone which would not be out of place in a Glenn Frey song.

Rivers of Nihil’s classic influences are easy enough to hear (ohai Morbid Angel!), but Owl‘s adventurous spirit — the chutzpah that enables the band to explore territory which might potentially alienate old school DM fans — is distinctly of this century. It likely never even occurred to Terrance Hobbs or the Tardys to make an album with acoustic guitars, Dream Theater-esque organ solos, and lilting vocals by a lady guest singer (Sarah Thomas, sister of Black Crown Initiate’s Andy Thomas). Rivers of Nihil are walking a path that was paved for them by bands like Genghis Tron and The Red Chord — bands that were bold to throw away the rules of convention and talented enough to not fall flat on their faces in the process (ohai again, Morbid Angel!). They write great songs that just plain old rock, but also don’t sound quite like anything else on the market right now. It makes Owls and Rivers of Nihil seem exciting and relevant in ways few of their up-and-coming peers are. Or their heroes, for that matter (ohai AGAIN, Morbid Angel!).

Not incidentally, the lyrics on Where Owls Know My Name are every bit as of-the-now as the music, telling a loose narrative about “the sole intelligent witness of the death of the planet.” It might even be depressing if the record wasn’t so energizing.

That the metal community so embraced Where Owls Know My Name is cause for celebration; it means we may not be as stuck in the past as some feared. If Rivers of Nihil remain on their current trajectory, they’re going to be one of metal’s most popular bands in a few years. If that doesn’t give you hope for the future, I dunno what will.

The 25 Best Metal Albums of 2010 – 2019:

#25: Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas, Mariner (2016)
#24: Triptykon, Eparistera Daimones (2010)
#23: Pig Destroyer, Book Burner (2012)
#22: Yob, Clearing the Path to Ascend (2014)
#21: The Black Dahlia Murder, Ritual (2011)
#20: Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun (2014)
#19: At the Gates, At War with Reality (2012)
#18: Meshuggah, Koloss (2012)
#17: Gorguts, Colored Sands (2012)
#16: Between the Buried and Me, The Parallax II: Future Sequence (2012)
#15: The Ocean, Pelagial (2013)
#14: Kvelertak, Kvelertak (2010)
#13: Judas Priest, Firepower (2018)
#12: Metallica, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct (2016)
#11: Converge,
All We Love We Leave Behind (2012)
#10: The Dillinger Escape Plan,
One of Us Is the Killer (2013)

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