The Work

The Work

In a way, Rivers of Nihil’s fourth full-length is about the work that went into the album itself. As a concept, The Work grew out of the progressive death metal band’s transition into full-time touring with the success of their previous LP, 2018’s Where Owls Know My Name. “When that happened, we got a taste of what it was like to do this as our job,” bassist, lyricist, and co-vocalist Adam Biggs tells Apple Music. “It changes your relationship with your art and what you love when you attach a monetary dependence to it. In that way, success is a bit of a violation of art. The Work is sort of a metacommentary on what we do when art in general and just the nature of the world becomes a lot of…work.” Below, he discusses each track.
“The Tower (Theme From ‘The Work’)” “I had the idea of this record being a cinematic experience. When we were first putting together this track, it sounded like it had a dreary, opening-credits type of feel. It has a lot of musical themes that I felt were easy to latch onto, and I felt they were delivering the bigger musical picture of the record. The idea of ‘The Tower’ itself is based on a tarot card. It’s a signifier of tumultuous times, but also an opportunity for regrowth. That’s what the lyrics touch on.”
“Dreaming Black Clockwork” “This song is actually one that I contributed a lot to musically, which is kind of an outlier for the band. Typically, I’m not really a riff writer. I stick to writing the lyrics and the basslines—everything else has pretty much been [guitarist] Brody [Uttley] for the last few years. This has a kind of dark, grinding feel with a lot of crazy sounds and an industrial kind of clanking. It represents the beginning of the grind of your day, after you’ve just woken up and come to grips with what your life is going to be like today. The lyrics are pure existential dread and a desire to escape, but there’s also a will to live.”
“Wait” “This is an interesting track for us and for people who are familiar with the band. I think it’ll probably throw some people for a loop, but it’s a fun track off the back of the last one. The way the tracks butt up against each other felt like an homage to a classic band, but I don’t want to say exactly who. It’s just about getting high and forgetting your worries for a while, so it’s a little break. The way that Brody put the solo together at the end felt like Guns N’ Roses to me, which I thought was an interesting direction for us.”
“Focus” “A lot of these songs are drug tracks, if you break them down. If ‘Wait’ was more of a marijuana song, this would be an Adderall song. I grew up in the age when kids were being prescribed amphetamines like candy. I was one of those kids, for better or worse, and when you’re that age you don’t really understand that you’re being set up for a particular relationship with mind-altering substances. You feel dependent on them to function in society, but also sort of resentful towards them.”
“Clean” “If you’re just looking at the lyrics of this track, it seems it could just be about drugs, and you wouldn’t be wrong in assuming that, but it’s also more about poverty. It’s about struggling and having to scrape by in life. When you do that, nothing around you is clean. Everything is dirty and dingy and spoiled. People don’t understand that if you can’t take a person out of a bad situation, they’re never really going to get themselves out of that hole.”
“The Void From Which No Sound Escapes” “I came up with the elaborate title before I even knew what the song was going to be about, but it talks about the artist’s struggle. You have an audience that expects something of you, so you kind of have this monster you need to feed. You don’t want to betray what they want, but you also want to be yourself. A lot of times when I’m writing lyrics, I’m putting my worst feelings down—and then I’ll hear people sing them back to me at a show like it’s nothing. So, you’ve got people repeating these painful things you feel, and you wonder what that does to everyone involved.”
“More?” “This is sort of like the delivery on the promise of the last track. It’s probably the only straight-up death-metal song on the whole record, which is odd for us. Lyrically, it’s kind of sarcastic, like, ‘Yeah, this is exactly what you want. We know how to give it to you, but we don’t always want to. We have other ideas that we can’t ignore.’ So, it’s a little angry at the expectation, but we’re having a good time with it.”
“Tower 2” “The first ‘Tower’ is that intuition link with the record. It’s pulling you into the topic of the album. ‘Tower 2’ exists as a little bit of a comeback to that situation. It’s a fun little song, kind of a country tune. I get to croon for you a little bit. I like it a lot, but there’s not a whole lot more to say than that.”
“Episode” “I think this was the first song Brody wrote the music for, but it was a hard one to put together lyrically. It’s about the stress of putting all this stuff down—and reconciling with it. We have to weigh all of this stuff that we’re making against the rest of our lives. There’s relationships in my life that have come and gone throughout this whole thing. So much of my life has to be a certain way to make this thing endure. But I think it’s common for touring musicians to make certain sacrifices. So, it’s about little moments in your life ending, and you just have to keep working through it.”
“Maybe One Day” “We listen to a lot of theremin-based music on tour. Brody started messing with some of that stuff, so we decided to incorporate some of that kind of tone into this song. Lyrically, it’s a continuation of ‘Episode’ in a way—it’s asking if it’s maybe a better option to just move on. But it’s also a little ambiguous as to what you're moving on from. As someone who works a lot, do you make better choices for your life at home or on the road? It’s also saying that it’s OK to contemplate these things but maybe not worry about them so much.”
“Terrestria IV: Work” “In the same way that ‘The Tower’ is sort of the opening credits, this is the ending credits. The curtain is closing—not only on this record, but also on the entire four seasonal concepts thing that we’ve run with throughout our whole career at this point. Because this record explores so much other territory sound-wise, we thought it was time for something a little more immediately crowd-pleasing. We’ve finished the work and the whole concept, and this song is asking what’s changed and if we’re happy with what we’ve done. It’s an invitation for the listener to look back with us.”


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