RIVIẼRE’s debut album, Heal, is one whose sounds bring to life its name and that of the band. It cradles and heals, it flows like a river. It is very solid post prog metal (in that order) and well worth the listen.
Like any quality metal or rock with post- leanings, its most impressive aspect is pacing. The songs are long, and it’s a long album, but it doesn’t feel this way because the riffs evolve gradually and organically, they interlock and overlap almost imperceptibly. The band’s name is evocatively accurate in this respect – sections flow into each other smoothly, there are very few jagged edges, just continuous swells of energy. Listen to the build through the beginning of New Cancer – layer by layer, an atmosphere thickens and gains weight. To my ears, there are only a handful of truly distinct musical ideas at the core of this song, but they are developed, varied, and recombined so seamlessly and subtly that this is a definite compositional strength.
The other key aspect of the album’s post- character is its sonic saturation. At any given time, the guitars, bass and vocal will cover high and low registers, fast and slow moving lines. Listen to the way repetitive little squiggly guitar patterns nestle within expansive, slow moving chords, to how the drums keep the rhythm moving on the level of groups of measures as well as propelling the sometimes quirky grooves of individual riffs, and to how the bass does both at different times. This, if it is possible to pinpoint, is the healing that I hear – the soothing, constant presence of comforting sounds moving at an assured pace.
A lot of this has to do with the production. It is the band’s first album, though you certainly wouldn’t guess it. The production is great throughout, offering a consistent mix and letting the musical details shine through. The guitar tones are especially worth mentioning – they hang long enough in the musical air, decaying interestingly, and there is enough subtle variety inside the consistency that I’ve been able to listen to this album and stay interested by that alone.
It is also a progressive album. The most obvious sites of this are in the rhythms and harmonies, and in the puzzles of putting it into a genre. The grooves on the album are great. Again, always immensely self-assured, fairly down-tempo, and never flashy (by progressive metal standards at least), but sometimes really brilliant. I particularly like the metric modulation play in Symbol – listen to how gently the groove becomes apparent in the opening clean guitar section through the barely perceptible delay effect, how the drums perfectly ride the line of this ambiguity when they enter, how the metric modulation into the main groove at 1:22 feels inevitable and how sublimely the tension created by this is released when we return to the initial tempo at 2:09. While this is the most conspicuous instance of rhythmic play, the album is full of unusual phrase lengths and refreshingly unusual grooves that nevertheless don’t call attention to themselves because the band plays them so convincingly.
Ditto with harmony – there are a few sublime moments of unexpected harmonic choice, such as that one chord first introduced at 7:16 of Yosemite that just about makes the whole song for me.
Last and least, it is a metal album – I guess. Really, it is a case of an album that is too metal for the rock kids and not metal enough for the metal kids, or maybe just metal enough for both. The precision of the grooves, the few muscular riffs like those on Binary Love, the guitar and drum tones certainly point toward post-metal but the vocals are all clean (not growled) and the album never quite goes over the edge into an aggression that would make it incontrovertibly metal. This is certainly a progressive choice – to me, it feels like the band has developed a sound that feels true to the music they want to make and didn’t worry much about fitting into any one established genre. Like everything else about Heal, this is not a flashy, far-out progressiveness, but a subtle genre subversion and one that has grown on me, as anything progressive of quality will have to.
The easy comparisons are to Deftones, Tool, Oceansize, and Karnivool. I also hear elements of recent TesseracT’s floating vocals over non-conventional grooves, fellow Frenchmen Uneven Structure’s saturated atmospheres and tasteful clean vocals, even Hacride and Gojira’s (also both French) rigorous and precise yet infectious grooves. It is an album at once soothing, straightforwardly enjoyable, and subtly puzzling – a huge achievement for a debut album and one that immediately has me excitedly speculating about where the band might go next.
01. New Cancer (8:32)
02. Golden Wounds (6:41)
03. Symbol (8:54)
04. Satin Night (9:45)
05. Cobalt 2:58
06. Binary Love (5:48)
07. Yosemite (9:49)
Total Time – 52:27
Alexandre Berenguer – Guitar
Arnaud Laffont – Bass, Vocals
Nicolas Saravia – Guitar
Tommy Hercher – Drums
Record Label: Basick Records
Country of Origin: France
Date of Release: 20th January 2017