With the overwhelming success of 2018’s Where Owls Know My Name, Pennyslvania’s Rivers of Nihil could not have set expectations much higher for a subsequent release. 2021’s The Work proves to be an extremely polarizing album—one which will meet those expectations for some and fall far short for others.

The album is unique in its focus on both simple, clean interludes and extremely avant garde, industrial experimentation. The problem is, both styles miss the mark, and often come off pretentious, relying on mixing techniques and dense layering to create new sounds where inspired melodies might have been. Instead, we are lost in a labyrinth of casual stoner rock and simple, droning riffs that lack the melodic spine that carried Owls so confidently. Though the album is not without its gems, even the more realized tracks feel lost amongst the rest. The one consistent element of the album is the lyrical theme, which we are incessantly badgered with. As a whole, the album is vexing in that it is either overly ambitious, or is far too lazy, with experimentation generating both the truly awesome as well as pitifully dull.

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Noticed this immediately on my first listen. I’ve been wondering if anyone else has.

Take a listen to this sound bite and let me know which category you think this example falls into:

  1. This is a rip-off! Some bastard stole some other bastard’s jam!
  2. This is an homage. This is too similar. The artist is merely giving a wink and nod to a predecessor.
  3. This is a coincidence. Louis Daguerre and Henry Fox both invented photography independent of each other, after all. There are only so many ways to make music.
  4. This is an accident. Yeah, it’s probably inspired by the older piece, but they probably didn’t even realize it.
  5. You are smoking. Don’t even see it.

KANSAS – “Carry on My Wayward Son” vs. RIVERS OF NIHIL – “Subtle Change”

Enjoy this one, and don’t forget to smash that like button!

This is surely the most famous controversy I’ve entertained thus far. People outside my circle have noticed and commented on this before. But I definitely think it’s worth exploring even more.

Take a listen to this sound bite and let me know which category you think this example falls into:

  1. This is a rip-off! Some bastard stole some other bastard’s jam!
  2. This is an homage. This is too similar. The artist is merely giving a wink and nod to a predecessor.
  3. This is a coincidence. Louis Daguerre and Henry Fox both invented photography independent of each other, after all. There are only so many ways to make music.
  4. This is an accident. Yeah, it’s probably inspired by the older piece, but they probably didn’t even realize it.
  5. You are smoking. Don’t even see it.

LED ZEPPELIN – “Kashmir” vs. COHEED AND CAMBRIA – “Welcome Home”

Tell me what you think, and then I’ll drop my two cents in the comments.

Okay, maybe not the most serious offering here, but we do this for the fun, right?

Take a listen to this track, and let me know which category you think this example falls into:

  1. This is a rip-off! Some bastard stole some other bastard’s jam!
  2. This is an homage. This is too similar. The artist is merely giving a wink and nod to a predecessor.
  3. This is a coincidence. Louis Daguerre and Henry Fox both invented photography independent of each other, after all. There are only so many ways to make music.
  4. This is an accident. Yeah, it’s probably inspired by the older piece, but they probably didn’t even realize it.
  5. You are smoking. Don’t even see it.

DEVIN TOWNSEND – “Ziltoidia Attaxx” vs. CHAOS DIVINE – “False Flags”

Few albums in the pantheon of progressive metal have landed with the splash of 2007’s “Colors,” an eminently original and much celebrated work. Now, 14 years later, BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME have boldly lowered the bucket back into the well, hoping to dredge up a sequel as refreshing as its predecessor. Clearly, the well has not gone dry. “Colors II” will surely sate the thirst of any prog fan, but how does it compare to the original? The characteristics of “II” that elevate it beyond the earlier offering are the same characteristics that hold it back—in a word, consistency. The song writing, performance, and production of “Colors II” are far more consistent. There are no duds, no filler, no blemishes, but alas, less goosebumps. With its superior production, inspired heavy sections and subtle allusions to the 2007 masterpiece, there is so much greatness in this album, but it never achieves the soaring, intoxicating heights of the original.

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Take a listen to this track, and let me know which category you think this example falls into:

  1. This is a rip-off! Some bastard stole some other bastard’s jam!
  2. This is an homage. This is too similar. The artist is merely giving a wink and nod to a predecessor.
  3. This is a coincidence. Louis Daguerre and Henry Fox both invented photography independent of each other, after all. There are only so many ways to make music.
  4. This is an accident. Yeah, it’s probably inspired by the older piece, but they probably didn’t even realize it.
  5. You are smoking. Don’t even see it.

PAIN OF SALVATION – “Beyond the Pale” vs. KATATONIA – “My Twin”

Two of my very favorite bands from my college years, but is one of them a treacherous thief?