Seeing Rivers Of Nihil had been on my bucket list for a while. “Where Owls Know My Name” made such an impression on me when it was released that I had a hard time digesting their next record in the same manner. “The Work” seemed almost too assertive and artificially eccentric at first. It wasn’t long before I realized my criticism of the record was preposterous. I was expecting it to somehow best an album I found to be nearly perfect without changing any of the dynamics… or some such buffoonery. Bah, those “elitist” moments just sneak up on ya, don’t they? What’s important is you learn your lesson, and Rivers Of Nihil certainly did an excellent job shutting my inner critic the fuck up last weekend at their sold-out show at Sanctuary Detroit.
The lineup for their headlining tour was straight-up crazy town, for one thing. Warforged and Alluvial both killed it, and don’t even get me started on Fallujah! Another band I had yet to witness live, Fallujah was perfection for a guitar lover like myself. And more to the point, each band did well championing the next in line. Both by complimentary banter and balanced aggression, careful not to leave the audience without a reason to make a little extra noise. The energy in that room by the time Rivers Of Nihil hit the stage was remarkable.
Part of the reason for this was due to the building itself. Sanctuary Detroit often feels like a Metal utopia, albeit rather compact. I have been there many times and have yet to encounter a hostile crowd or a band that was anything but open for a bit of a chinwag between sets. Always a comradely environment. One charming little tidbit about the place is that they regularly have old-school wrestling on the tv at the bar, which I occasionally find myself watching with whichever band is playing as the soundtrack. An interesting alternative to the pit, certainly, but this small comfort goes a long way for an older gentleman like myself.
An older gentleman who needed a jacket in June, which I dropped at one point without noticing. A more observant fellow bar-side attendee handed it back with a nod and a smile. This philanthropic individual turned out to be Kevin Muller from Alluvial. Yet another missed opportunity for a Metal dude to prove what heathens we all are. Way to go, Kevin!
As much time as I’ve spent with “Where Owls Know My Name” and “The Work,” one thing I can’t say I’ve ever done is listen to them out of sequence and mixed together. This is a testament to the effectiveness of both records, no doubt, but I was excited to hear how that might sound. As it turns out, “MORE?” and “A Home” sounded completely natural together, as did other combinations. One combination in particular that left a mark was “Episode” and “A Subtle Change.”
During these twenty-ish minutes, Sanctuary Detroit became a land where Progressive Technical Death Metal met the sounds of Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree. Each musician had proven their skills beyond any doubt, but at this point, it became shockingly apparent how well these guys compliment each other. Guitar solos, organ accompaniment, triple vocal harmonies, and that saxophone! Holy shit!
Zach Strouse had been on stage playing sax the majority of the set, and between “Episode” and “A Subtle Change” he just laid shit to waste! The same goes for Brody Uttley and Andy Thomas who – after having seen Fallujah less than an hour earlier – made me want to just quit playing guitar entirely. That’s it. I’m done. It has been a fun thirty-six years.
Adam Biggs and Jared Klein are a brilliant rhythm section. I don’t want to play that down at all, but their backing vocals are absolutely essential to the sound of that band. The live setting helped me to appreciate that on a much grander scale.
Now, about Jake Dieffenbach. He’s clearly a talented vocalist. I never had a doubt that would be the case live as well. What I did not expect was the nearly shamanistic presence he possesses.
He moved like a samurai. Stalking from the stage. Every move was intentional. The organic nature of it would at times turn mechanical as if he were a machine that got caught within the gears of the music. He would tuck the microphone into the fabric of his shirt and stand there like a man mountain… letting all of the energy in the room flow through him. Just soaking it up, as absorbed as the rest of us.
There is no doubt that being in front of Rivers Of Nihil heightens the effect of their already spectacular music. That performance was precisely the type that could create a lifelong fan out of a someone who hadn’t heard much of the band before stepping into the club. One of the better shows I have been to since COVID restrictions loosened. Absolute brilliance.