If you want to know what the best death metal in 2015 sounds like, look no further than Pennsylvania’s Rivers of Nihil, who are just about to drop Monarchy, one of the most impressive sophomore releases to ever come out of the death metal style. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re a fan of blast-happy insanity, head-bobbing grooves or expansive and progressive song structures, this album has it all, and it’s smoking damn near every other modern band in the process. Now that the band is just about to head out on the road in support of this monolith of a record, Brody Uttley had a conversation with Heavy Blog Is Heavy while he was in his car up headed up to New York for band practice. I had a chance to speak with him about balancing brutality with progressive song ideas, handling the recording process on his own, the band’s touring plans, and much more!
I got a promo of Monarchy about a week or so ago, and it’s the shit, man! This is easily the best death metal I’ve heard in at least a year! I’m really excited about it.
Wow, that’s awesome man! I’m glad that you got a promo and I’m glad that you like it! laughs
The first thing that grabbed me about it was that there’s no doubt that it’s super technical like stuff you’d done in the past, but there’s just so many more hooks and parts that stick to your bones immediately. Was that a goal going into it, or did it just sort of happen that way?
Yeah, we’ve always as a band tried to write songs that follow a more easy-to-follow song structure. We all listen to a lot of rock music and pop music from time to time, so we catch the structures that those bands use and the way that they are able to get songs stuck in your head. We’ve always taken that sort of approach and wanted to apply it to death metal. On the last record there’s some of it like the song “Rain Eater.” In that song you can really hear the kind of A-B, A-B-C kind of chorus/verse style. But on this record, we really wanted to focus even more on that and write songs that were going to stick with people.
Besides that, were there any other things that you were trying to really bring forward into the record, or was it just keeping that new song structure idea going?
There was a lot, honestly. We changed guitarists. Our other guitarist, Jon Kunz, he left in September of last year, and that was right around the time that we were around the halfway point of writing the album and I had written the first half of the album by myself. He hadn’t written anything for the album yet. So after he left, I just finished the album by myself. So this record minus one song…our guitarist Jon Topore, he wrote “Reign of Dreams” for the record.
Oh wow, really? That’s one of my favorite songs on it, I’m not gonna lie!
Oh yeah man, it’s awesome! It’s kind of like Decapitated meets like…a really scary thing? laughs I don’t really know how to explain it but it’s one of my favorite songs on the album too. He did a really sick job with that. On this record since I ended up writing like 95% of the stuff on it a lot of stuff that I had wanted to do with this band since day one I was finally able to do. I didn’t have another guy that was telling me “oh, that’s stupid” or “oh, that doesn’t make sense.” I really just went for it and more or less did whatever the hell I wanted to. There are a lot of new elements, like we have songs with acoustic guitars and the last song doesn’t even have any blast beats in it. There’s a bunch of stuff that we did on this record differently and intentionally. I feel like we have always wanted to be a death metal band that has done whatever we wanted to do and not really worrying about sticking to the classic death metal sound. I think that on this record, especially with the new members, we were really able to do that.
On top of doing most of the writing, you also took the helm of putting everything together recording-wise. I can’t even comprehend how much work that would be. Is that something you would want to do again, or was that out of necessity?
No! In a way, I guess it was for financial reasons. On our first record, we went down to Florida to Mana Studios to record with Erik Rutan which was an awesome experience, but we were in Florida! We were 20 hours away from home, we had to pay to stay at a hotel, we had to pay for our food, we had to pay to drive down there…it was a very expensive trip for us. Obviously the record label helped out with the actual album and they took care of paying for the recording, but everything else we were pretty much on our own. So this time we wanted to just do it on our own. I talked to a lot of people that had done this sort of thing before like Scott Carstairs from Fallujah. He’s actually the guy that talked me into doing it this way, as well as Justin McKinney from The Zenith Passage and The Faceless. Both of those guys, their bands always record their own guitar and bass. It ended up saving us a lot of money and a lot of frustration. It was definitely a lot of work. I think we spent about three weeks on guitar and bass, just making sure everything was good. Then we went to the studio, and we were only there for I think ten days for drums, vocals, mixing, re-amping and stuff like that. It was more work on my end being that I had to take the reins with recording the guitar and bass, but I think it was way more relaxed than our last record because I had the freedom. I have the studio at my house, so I could just wake up and track some solos, go do something during the day, and come back at night to record more. It was a lot of work, but I think it was way less stress than normal.
I think the production sounds really great, and I think it’s a big step up from the first record. Everything just sounds just plain bigger than before. Do you think you’d want to work with other bands and help them out or do you just want to keep it for your band?
I do record other bands when I’m at home. I’m actually recording two bands right now, and that’s something that I enjoy doing. Now that I’ve done the guitar and bass on our album, and in the liner notes I actually got an engineering credit, so it’s kind of cool because it makes me look like I know what I’m doing! I feel like more local bands have approached me since I’ve done or record and wanted to do stuff with me. So I do work with other bands as well. It’s not like I’m only going to do this for Rivers. I’m willing to help out as many bands as possible and get better at it.
I’ve also got another question about the last three songs on the record. Every other song with the exception of the first two seems very individual, but the last three all bleed together. After listening to it a bunch, I kind of think of it as one big song. Was that on purpose? Is that conceptually one big piece, or am I overthinking things?
Conceptually, not really. I think musically, yes. We did that on purpose. We wanted the front of the record to be more traditional heavy/scary death metal to draw in our fans that are more straight death metal guys. And then as the record goes on, we wanted it to unwrap into this more progressive and emotional-sounding record. With the last three songs, we definitely did that on purpose. “Terrestria” fades out into “Circles in the Sky,” and then that goes directly into “Suntold.” In a way, I guess I kind of think of those three songs as one piece of music as well. It definitely was intentional. They’re closely related. Each of those songs has elements that it shares with the other ones. I think that the way that we arranged it, people will like it. There’s guys that are more traditional and will be drawn to the heavy stuff at the beginning and then maybe as we slowly introduce stuff they’ll stick around. Or maybe not. But it’s worth a try.
I think it keeps things way more interesting. If it’s just nothing but 200+ BPMs the whole time, 40 to 50 minutes of that can definitely wear you out. I think it keeps the flow going really well, so I’m glad that it happened.
Awesome! It’s cool that you noticed that. I hoped that people would. Those songs are all very closely related.
A few days ago the video for “Sand Baptism” came out and I’ve seen it get some attention for the punchline at the end. Was that the band’s idea, or was it made up on the spot? Because all of your other videos have been very serious performance videos. There’s that too, but it’s a little different.
Well basically what happened with that is Metal Blade approached us and said “hey, do you guys want to do a music video with Dave Brodsky?” We had worked with him before on the “Mechanical Trees” music video and we were like “yeah sure!” But we wanted it to have a storyline because all the other music videos we have put out were strictly performance. That stuff’s cool, but you can’t keep releasing the same thing over and over again. So we wanted to do something that had a storyline. Originally we talked about having a serious concept, but with the time we had and since we wanted to get it out before the release of the album, we wouldn’t do a whole lot of huge, Behemoth style stuff like that. Ultimately what it came down to was one day I was mowing my lawn and was thinking of ideas for the music video, and I came up with this stupid idea of dressing Jake up as the sun because the lyrics are “I am the sun.” I told Dave Brodsky about that and he was like “oh, that’s an interesting idea. What if we have him getting dressed up for the whole movie, and then it gets revealed?” It was really just a matter of us wanting to break up a performance video, and it turned out to be a pretty stupid and funny idea, I guess. If people like it, great, and if they don’t, whatever!
I thought it was great man! And it’s funny that you said Behemoth earlier, because the whole slow-motion aspect of the video paired with the main hook of the song, felt like it was sort of poking fun at how epic Behemoth is.
We didn’t do that on purpose, but it’s kind of funny that you say that! laughs
Overall, what do you hope people will take away from Monarchy? Do you have any sort of expectations at all, or are you not even thinking about that? I know it’s not even out yet, but…
I try not to have any expectations, because I’ve kind of learned through my life that usually when you expect shit, 90% of the time you’re either disappointed or confused. So I try not to expect anything, but I hope that our older fans that got into us on the first record can listen to this one and open up their mind and grow with the band as we grow. I hope that newer fans can grab onto the newer sounds and get into the older, heavier side of us. I hope that new fans that dig the progressive stuff get into that, and I hope guys that are into the heavy stuff get into the progressive side. I feel like it’s a good blend of that on the album.
Do you guys have any plans to hit the road? Is that going to happen soon, and who is that going to be with?
I can’t say who it’s with yet. The announcement should be out something in the next two or three weeks, and we’re going to be doing a tour in October and November with a bunch of really sick death metal bands. I think that when people see who the bands are, they’ll say “oh yeah, that makes a lot of sense!”
I hope it’s Black Crown Initiate! I’m just saying.
Yeah…well, I guess anything could happen…laughs
Is that the only thing you guys have planned, or do you already have stuff planned for next year? Do you have any aspirations or people you’d like to tour with that you haven’t yet?
Oh yeah, always. Right now that tour is the only thing on the album, but stuff kind of rolls in as the weeks go on, so I’m sure other things will keep rolling. And there are always bands that I’d love to tour with. Gojira, Decapitated, Meshuggah, Between the Buried and Me and The Black Dahlia Murder…all the top-tier guys. I think we’d all love to tour with those bands, but we’ll see!