LIVE: Rivers of Nihil / Black Crown Initiate / MØL / Orbit Culture @ Mama Roux’s, Birmingham

By Liam Knowles

It’s a cold, wet, dreary Sunday night in Birmingham, and yet Mama Roux’s is packed right to the back with eager metalheads ready to be pummelled by tonight’s four-band touring lineup. Orbit Culture make short work of getting the crowd warmed up, with their tight, technical metal going over an absolute storm. Vocalist Niklas Karlsson has an impressive stage presence despite being trapped behind a guitar, and whilst the heavily Gojira-influenced racket they make isn’t exactly original, it’s delivered with equal measures of notable skill and passionate ferocity.

MØL are up next, but quite frankly they should be headlining. The Danish quintet caused quite a stir with their debut album, last year’s stunning ‘Jord’, but their live performance takes the intensity and fervor of that album to inconceivable levels. The band take the glistening beauty of post-rock and mix it with acerbic black metal, which has, of course, been done before – but there’s something about MØL that feels incredibly fresh and modern. Black metal is, by its very nature, low-fi and scuzzy, but this band have somehow made it sound crisp and polished, even almost poppy in places, without losing any of the acidity. This is helped largely by Kim Song Sternkopf’s harrowing vocal performance and intimidating stage presence; he stalks the stage like a caged animal before heading into the crowd (and up the stairs at one point) to frighten some punters. The band tear through the likes of ‘Penumbra’ and ‘Ligament’ with sound so clear you can feel the different textures in the air, flitting seamlessly between light and dark like no other band at their level can. With this performance, MØL have set the bar absurdly high for the rest of the night.

Unfortunately for Black Crown Initiate, they’re in the tricky position of going on after that ridiculous performance, and they just don’t come anywhere near the bar. They don’t sound too dissimilar to Orbit Culture with their groove-driven technical metal, and whilst the members are all obviously accomplished musicians, their songs just aren’t very interesting and the whole thing just feels a bit generic and uninspired. There are some solid riffs and interesting rhythms in there but they’re mostly hidden by muddy sound and a lack of dynamics. It’s a real shame, as the standard of the night had been high up til this point, but Black Crown Initiate do seem to have a lot of fans in the audience lapping it up so they’ll surely see the set as a success despite their shortcomings.

Tech-death-metalcore starlets Rivers Of Nihil are tonight’s headliner, and whilst they don’t quite hit MØL levels of perfection, they’re still utterly incredible. They open with ‘Rain Eater’ from 2013’s ‘The Conscious Seed of Light’ before giving the people what they really came for: a full front-to-back playthrough of 2018’s stellar ‘Where Owls Know My Name’. The tension in the room is palpable during ‘Cancer / Moonspeak’, and when ‘The Silent Life’ finally kicks in it does so with pinpoint precision and planetary force. Vocalist Jake Dieffenbach is record-perfect in places but also plays around with vocal styles live that he doesn’t on the album. The band behind him are impossibly tight, with drummer Jared Klein putting in a particularly impressive performance on ‘A Home’, and the backing vocals from bassist Adam Biggs add another layer of savagery to the already caustic sound.

Of course, Rivers Of Nihil aren’t just about heaviness, despite doing heaviness to an extremely high standard. ‘Where Owls Know My Name’ also features elements of folk, electronica, and most obviously jazz and soul in the form of a saxophonist. Sax man Zach Strauss isn’t a full-time member of the band, but he’s been flown out for this tour, and watching him lay down such a sensual instrument over such brutal music really is something to behold, especially on fan-favourite ‘A Subtle Change’. You could say it’s a bit gimmicky, but when all the other aspects of the music are as good without it, all it is really is the icing on an already amazing cake. It will be interesting to see how Rivers Of Nihil change up their sound next, but if tonight is anything to go by then they have a strong future ahead of them.