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Music / Rivers of Nihil

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Rivers of Nihil is an American progressive death metal band. Known for their eclectic sound that folds in the assorted influences of all of its members, they have become a fast-rising star in the death metal world and are poised to take it by storm.

Formed in Reading, Pennsylvania in 2009 by Jake Dieffenbach (vocals), Jonathan Kunz (guitar), and Ron Nelson (drums), the band quickly welcomed in Brody Uttley (guitar) and Adam Biggs (bass, vocals) after their own band fell apart and then proceeded to build up a live reputation that helped make Hierarchy, their debut EP, an underground hit in 2010. Shows throughout the Northeast helped continue the momentum, as did their second EP, Temporality Unbound, which came out in late 2011. It was sometime around this period that Erik Rutan discovered them on MySpace and left them a message praising them and informing them of his desire to work with them someday. This, along with a successful tour with their buddies in Kamikabe, only served to further embolden them; when offered a deal with Metal Blade Records in 2012, it became apparent that their hard work had paid off. Recording for their full-length began in March of 2013; come that October, The Conscious Seed of Light was released and met with much fanfare and critical acclaim.

Various tours followed; additionally, 2014 brought the band's first hiccup, as Ron Nelson decided to leave and was replaced by Alan Balamut. Additionally, their first major tour of that year with Oceano, Broken Hope, Fallujah, and Kublai Khan ended early due to a string of ill fortune that struck every band on the bill except them and resulted in the cancellation of the tour; thankfully, another tour with Whitechapel and DevilDriver was just around the corner and went fine, so it's likely that that was just a bump in the road. Kunz later quit in September and was replaced by Jon Topore, before the band embarked on the Death tribute act Death to All's "Swamp Leper Stomp" tour with Obituary and Massacre. Their second album, Monarchy, was released in 2015. Around the end of 2015, Alan Balamut left due to a mix of a rough financial situation and a desire to finally finish school; Dylan Potts was brought on as a live fill-in and was inducted as a full-time member sometime after. He did not work out and was gone by the end of 2016, however, and Jared Klein was brought in as a fill-in before being made full-time himself in 2017.


  • Hierarchy (2010) - EP
  • Temporality Unbound (2011) - EP
  • The Conscious Seed of Light (2013)
  • Monarchy (2015)
  • Where Owls Know My Name (2018)
  • The Work (2021)
  • The Sub-Orbital Blues (2023) (single)
  • Hellbirds (2023) (single)


  • Album Title Drop:
    • "Central Antheneum":
    "I return my psyche to the origin of self!
    Through this plane of space and time!
    The conscious seed of light!"
  • The Alleged Car: Even by metal standards, their old van was a piece of shit and they were more than happy to admit it. Adam even walked one interviewer through all the bizarre and frustrating quirks of it, which included lots of bad sensors that essentially made most of the indicator lights and dials on the dashboard worthless, bad locks that rendered several doors largely unusable, and frustrating air conditioning quirks that seemed to be indicative of larger electrical problems; Digital Tour Bus (who were given an overview of the old van) even told them that it was quite literally the worst tour vehicle that they had ever covered. They got a newer, much better one, however, and their old one presumably met its end in a scrapyard.
  • Apocalypse How: "Mechanical Trees" features a Class 1 that is fast on its way to Class 2; civilization still exists, but the atmosphere is so thoroughly polluted that breathable air has to be created by the titular devices. Eventually turns into a Class 3 by the end of Monarchy.
  • Ascended Extra: Dylan Potts and Jared Klein were both originally live fill-ins before being asked to join full-time, though the former was kicked out after roughly a year. Adam Biggs was apparently also this, as he was not a founding member and had previously tracked bass on their first demo as a session member before joining full-time.
  • Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence: "Circles in the Sky" describes the mass spiritual transcendence of Monarchy's civilization.
  • Audience Participation Song: "Sand Baptism".
  • Book Ends: The end of "Terrestria IV: Work" and the beginning of "Terrestria I: Thaw" lead into each other.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: Jake, apparently.
  • Concept Album: All of their albums in varying degrees:
    • The Conscious Seed of Light is a set of stories of all the people who have lived on an unnamed planet whose souls eventually form one massive collective, which eventually leads into the solar flare at the end of "Airless" that kills off almost the entire planet's population and leads into Monarchy.
    • Monarchy: the world of The Conscious Seed of Light has become a sun-bleached desert and civilization is mostly restricted to a underground-dwelling sun-worshiping theocracy that has started to look more and more like a dictatorship with each passing day. Then another mass die-off occurs.
    • Where Owls Know My Name: the world of Monarchy is dead and gone and the spirit of the planet has allowed one person to live so that its death may have a witness, which doubles as a general narrative of death, aging, loss, and the ephemerality of life.
    • The Work is a more general narrative of winter as a metaphor for aging and the realities of being a famous artist when you never expected your art to take you this far, with both its bitter, crushing, miserable lows and its beautiful highs and breaks from the gloom and desolation.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Hierarchy was way more straightforward and less adventurous than the releases that followed and was generally pretty clear-cut Morbid Angel worship.
  • Epic Rocking: "Terrestria IV: Work" (11:29), "Subtle Change" (8:34), "Capricorn/Agoratopia" (7:50), "Episode" (7:29), "Suntold" (7:23), "Maybe One Day" (7:03), "The Void from Which No Sound Escapes" (6:43), "Where Owls Know My Name" (6:42), "Dreaming Black Clockwork" (6:39), "The Silent Life" (6:34), "Circles in the Sky" (6:27), "Death Is Real" (6:09), and "Clean" (6:08).
  • Genius Loci: The planet of Monarchy. By Where Owls Know My Name, it's on its deathbed and has chosen the protagonist to accompany it on its last days.
  • Growing the Beard: Adam Biggs credits Erik Rutan for making him a better bassist overall. In the band's earlier days, he just wanted to play the most complex and challenging material that he could come up with on bass and went into the recording sessions for The Conscious Seed of Light with that approach in mind; according to Biggs, Rutan kept pushing him to calm down, let the song breathe, and let the music dictate his approach rather than trying to shoehorn what he felt like playing in. Biggs has long since realized that Rutan's influence rubbed off on him and made him a more mature, nuanced player.
  • Handicapped Badass: Jake Dieffenbach has a progressively-worsening hearing deficit that he was born with that requires him to wear hearing aids (it's also resulted in a noticeable lisp due to how his hearing difficulties affected the way that he learned how to speak as a child), but he has become known as a powerful vocalist with a distinctly intelligible vocal approach.
  • "I Am" Song: "Sand Baptism".
    "I AM THE SUN!
  • Indecipherable Lyrics: Averted with Jake, who has a very clear and intelligible vocal style.
  • Lead Bassist: Adam Biggs hits all four categories on the head; he's got a ton of technical ability, he's a relatively frequent vocal contributor, he writes the vast majority of the lyrics and a decent amount of the music as well, and his basslines factor very heavily into the band's established musical style.
  • Metal Scream: Type 1 for Jake, Type 3 for Adam. Jake has also slowly begun to incorporate Type 3s as of the late 2010s.
  • Mushroom Samba: "Place of Serpents" (ayahuasca).
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: Jake is something of this; while not overly hippie-ish in appearance, he is heavily into a lot of New Age philosophies, the likes of which tend to shape their lyrics.
  • New Sound Album: Each release since The Conscious Seed of Light have involved a major stylistic shift.
    • Monarchy is a far denser, less straightforward, and generally more progressive release than the debut; while the first half is at least somewhat similar, the second half is where the arrangements open up.
    • Where Owls Know My Name is a much deeper plunge into prog, with far more eclectic arrangements and the introduction of clean vocals, saxophone, and Mellotron on certain tracks.
    • The Work completely sheds whatever tech elements remained, with extremely prominent post-metal and industrial metal elements and some subtle but noticeable trip-hop elements, an increased clean vocal presence, and an overall singular focus on prog.
  • Ode to Intoxication: "Place of Serpents", in this case ayahuasca.
  • Perishing Alt-Rock Voice: Their cleans circa Where Owls Know My Name.
  • Pintsized Powerhouse: Jake Dieffenbach.
  • Precision F-Strike: The Work contains several examples of profanity, which they avoided up to that point.
    • "More?":
    I hope it fuckin' kills you.
    • "Terrestria IV: Work":
    My heroes static grey, launch them all into space,
    Beyond the void from which no fucking sound escapes.
  • Progressive Metal: They started moving in this direction on Monarchy (particularly on the second half of the album) and fully embraced it with Where Owls Know My Name.
  • Religion of Evil: "A Fertile Altar", which is about a sex cult; while no names are mentioned, it has been confirmed that it was inspired by multiple high-profile incidents.
  • Rock Trio: Extremely early in their career. They apparently played a few shows as this before they added in Uttley and Biggs after their own band folded, though Biggs had previously recorded bass on their first demo as a session member.
  • Signature Style: Lots of odd-timed riffs, atmospheric tremolo riffing, quiet, post-rock-influenced sections, the occasional full-speed blasting portion, and darkly melodic soloing.
  • Singing Voice Dissonance: Jake's surprisingly clear and intelligible Canadian accent stands in stark contrast to his heavily US American speaking voice.
  • The Sixth Ranger: Zach Strouse, who started out as a guest saxophonist on Where Owls Know My Name, but wound up becoming an integral part of the band's modern sound. While he is not a full member and likely will not become one, he does tour with the band when time and budgets allow and it makes sense for the tour, and overall has been a pivotal figure in the band's growth.
  • Soprano and Gravel: Sorta. Jake has a mid-ranged roar that is somewhere between Steve Tucker and Piotr Wiwczarek, while Adam has a much higher rasp. Played straight on Where Owls Know My Name, which features clean vocals on multiple tracks.
  • Special Guest: Zach Strouse (Burial in the Sky) tracked saxophone on multiple songs on Where Owls Know My Name and The Work, while Andy Thomas tracked guest cleans on the aforementioned album's title track and Justin McKinney laid down a lead on "Old Nothing". James Dorton delivered a vocal guest spot on "Episode". On the live front, Dylan Potts and Jared Klein both started out as this, while Darren Liwen (The Kennedy Veil, Dismal) was strictly a one-time fill-in. Patrick Corona (Cyborg Octopus) has also become their on-call live saxophonist as of 2019 whenever their tour budgets allow for them to bring him out and they want to play songs that prominently feature saxophone.
  • Start My Own: Jon Kunz started the death/doom metal act Outer Heaven sometime in 2013 and later wound up quitting Rivers of Nihil to focus on it.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: While Adam Biggs has historically formed a Vocal Tag Team with Jake Dieffenbach and did a decent amount of the harshes and cleans, he wound up becoming the main harsh vocalist in 2022 after Jake was fired.
  • Technical Death Metal: Their EPs and the first two studio albums. They abandoned this on Where Owls Know My Name.
  • True Companions: With Revocation, who became fast friends with them when they first toured together in 2014, then worked to open as many doors for Rivers as possible once they got big and also helped set them up with Jared Klein.
  • Vocal Evolution: Jake Dieffenbach has gradually started to incorporate highs into live versions of their songs as of the late 2010s.
  • Working Class Anthem: "Hellbirds" is sung from the perspective of an archetypal down-on-their-luck blue collar worker; they're exhausted, in pain all the time, way too old to still be doing backbreaking physical labor, making way too little for the toll their job takes, struggling with a worsening substance addiction brought on by a need to make the day even slightly more tolerable, and increasingly less able to give a fuck about anything any more.