Rivers of Nihil – August 15, 2015 – Reverb – Reading, PA

Monday, 17th August 2015

Rivers of Nihil and Black Crown Initiate – the two seem to go together like peanut butter & jelly. In fact, each time this writer has seen either of these two bands, they have been playing together (for anyone keeping score, that’s twice at Saint Vitus, and this event). Not a bad three hour trek to get to Reading from the Hudson Valley in NY, as my wife accompanied me for the journey and it was not just a series of connecting highways to get there. What took place was a killer night showcasing some of the best death metal that growing eastern PA scene has to offer. There is something in the water over there based upon the strength of these bands – that’s for sure.

Arriving apparently just after Depraved Harbinger took the stage, they got the night off to a good start with some groovy death metal with some slight core elements. Plenty of stage energy and the ‘newer’ tracks seemed to be the strongest ones, so plenty of growth potential as they continue to evolve. Next up was Burial in the Sky, whose approach was death metal with some progressive/atmospheric infusion. Sadly, the programmed drums seemed a bit loud compared to the two gentlemen on stage but the technical and guitar-driven flair shined through regardless. Their atmospheric approach to the melodies helped them to standout from the other death metal bands of the evening and they have a sound that could definitely go places.

Third on the bill was the crushing death metal act Burn the Empire. Playing a few songs off their newly finished EP alongside some older material, their technically driven material came across well and still maintained an ear for melody. Again, the band seemed to be able to work the crowd over pretty well with an energetic performance, who were happy to soak in their modern death metal. Will certainly be looking for the upcoming EP when it’s available. The sound shifted a bit when Resilience took the stage. The sound was a bit more djent-y and ‘core-ish, which helped to separate them from the rest of the pack (along with the barked hardcore-influenced vocals). Most notably, the bassist was impressive – not simply following the guitars around but providing some solid playing on his own.

Divination took the stage next, but seemed to be plagued by problems – both before and during their set. But that didn’t stop them from delivering a rousing set of thrashy death metal. The band ripped through several tracks, with a flavor that gave some nods to the old school but was full of enough technical flair and intensity that it feels more timeless than anything else. Vocalist Brad Miller exercised some serious screams as well, while the band fired through as many tracks as they could before they ended cutting it one song short (the reason at this point I don’t recall). If this is the band on a bad day, it should be awesome to catch them on a good one! The last of the “local” acts was that of Outer Heaven, which notably features ex-Rivers of Nihil guitarist Jon Kunz in their line-up. One could tell these guys are beginning to make quite an impact in the scene, with a much larger portion of the crowd coming forward to get involved in the band’s set. The sludgy and old school death metal approach is impressive in the live setting, with thunderous grooves causing a sea of headbanging and the pit seemed to erupt frequently. Vocalist Austin Haines bellowed his way across the stage with a ton of energy – falling to the ground and growling from the floor and even making his way into the crowd at one point. It’s easy to this these guys moving into national status with the right push.

The first of Reading’s “big two,” Black Crown Initiate hit the stage to much fanfare. Plenty of headbanging, singing along to the choruses, and significant moshing all screamed how excited the crowed was to see BCI playing this hometown gig. Getting to play a slightly longer set than usual found the band playing a good chunk of their debut, The Wreckage of Stars. Having not seen the band since a week before said album was released, it was nice to hear a number of the tracks in the live setting. Some highlights included “The Malignant,” “Withering Waves,” “Great Mistake,” the always crushing “To the Eye That Leads You,” and my favorite on the album – “Purge.” Being on the road near-constantly, BCI continues to improve and impress with their live act. The band exudes more and more confidence each time I catch them and it’s clear that they are in it for the long haul. It’s always a pleasure to catch BCI – which is probably why they are getting attached to so many national tours.

Alas, it was now Rivers of Nihil‘s time to shine. Rivers has stepped up their game considerably with the soon to be released Monarchy (not that their first album was a slouch by any means) and it also shows in their live performance. With a nice, balanced set of old favorites alongside a number of Monarchy cuts, the band commanded the stage with a presence of a much more veteran band. All members were on top of their game for this one. Playing through some of the best of Monarchy, there was the title track, “Dehydrate,” “Sand Baptism,” and “Circles in the Sky” (and “Reign in Dreams” if memory serves me well). On the older front, we got to hear staples “Raineater” (which included a number of people grabbing the mic and singing at various points), “Mechanical Trees,” and of course, the head-crushing “Soil & Seed.” “Circles in the Sky” was the biggest treat, being towards the end of the album and pushing more in the atmospheric direction than much of the songs in the set, it still conveyed the same sense of heaviness but didn’t lose any of the emotive impact live. That seems to be the most impressive aspect of Monarchy itself, and for Rivers of Nihil to replicate it so seamlessly live bodes quite well for them. It’s one thing to write a great album, but you need to be able to get out there and play it to the masses just as well, which is what Rivers of Nihil has proven every time. Bound to be quite in-demand as more people get their hands on Monarchy, Rivers of Nihil (much like Black Crown Initiate) are worth catching any time they come around and should be major death metal players for years to come.

Rivers of Nihil on Facebook
Black Crown Initiate on Facebook
Outer Heaven on Facebook
Divination on Facebook
Resilience on Facebook
Burn the Empire on Facebook
Burial in the Sky on Facebook
Depraved Harbinger on Facebook

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