Here stands a glowing example of how the best metal bands are built for the long haul. With a burgeoning reputation as one of the most exciting new death metal bands around, RIVERS OF NIHIL hit the ground running with their 2013 debut album, "The Conscious Seed of Light". Although squarely rooted in technical death metal album, it was very obviously the work of a band with fewer creative limits than most. Since then, the Pennsylvania quintet have made giant leaps forward with each successive studio record, culminating in 2018's widely acclaimed "Where Owls Know My Name". At that point, it became obvious that RIVERS OF NIHIL were following a similar trajectory to BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME, in that they had transformed from an extreme metal band with progressive tendencies into a progressive metal band with extreme elements. It's a subtle difference, but one that blossoms magnificently on "The Work", an album that demands to be consumed in one nourishing hit.
If their previous album established them as potential heavyweights, "The Work" must surely propel RIVERS OF NIHIL to the forefront of the progressive metal realm. Those craving the brutality of old will not be disappointed, of course: from the mutant sprawl of "Dreaming Black Clockwork" to the cudgeling, deathly doom of "Episode", death metal remains an essential component. The real difference between "The Work" and all that has gone before is that RIVERS OF NIHIL's collective songwriting and arranging chops have hit a new level of efficacy, and the band sound just as supremely confident delivering a straight-ahead prog tune like "Wait" as they do reveling in vicious complexity elsewhere. "The Work" flows beautifully as a result: the sound of a band in thrall to their own inspirational ideas, and with a refined grasp of the dynamics required to truly take listeners on, dare we say it, a journey.
For those who loved "Where Owls Know My Name", this album's bursts of syrupy saxophone ("The Tower", "Episode") and detours into dreamy, Moog-embellished shoegaze (the utterly sublime "Maybe One Day") may not come as a massive surprise, but the sophisticated and elegant way that all those new elements have been assimilated into the RIVERS OF NIHIL sound is genuinely impressive. It reaches a spectacular crescendo of intrigue and depth on the closing "Terrestria IV: Work"; a wonderfully rich and noirish prog epic with huge emotional power, woozier saxophone, several of the heaviest riffs you will hear this year and a tour-de-force vocal from the wickedly versatile Jake Dieffenbach. As its final moments ebb enigmatically away, the most obvious response is to wonder exactly where RIVERS OF NIHIL will take their music next. Right now, they're absolutely flying.