When bands replace key members of personnel, it can take some time for the new line-up to settle. First albums back can be cagey affairs as confidence and momentum are often exchanged for uncertainty and caution. However, what becomes clear almost immediately with Vile Nilotic Rites (Nuclear Blast Records), the latest offering from US Death Metallers and aficionados of ancient Egypt, Nile, is that no such problems exist here. Continue reading
As we dash towards the holidays and the end of the year Ghost Cult is feeling good about this season of giving. So we are giving our fans a chance to get to know our partners, peers, and friends from bands in the world of music. They will chime in with some guest blogs, end of year lists, and whatever else is on their minds as we pull the plug on 2015. Today we have Atli Jarl Martin, promoter and digital go to guy for Eistnaflug Festival, who happily lives with his 19 computers and has a huge affection for his ThinkPads, shared his list of favorite releases of this year with us.
It’s been a strange year for me personally and a bit hard to keep up with as many releases I’ve done in recent years, Nevertheless I managed to build a list of some 70 releases which I have now filtered down to my final Top 10, whereas the top 5 releases could have all ended up in my top slot. I guess that most releases that made the cut won’t come as a surprise to anyone that knows me, but I hope that there are at least a couple that you haven’t listened to yet, and might give it a spin. 2016 is looking tremendously exciting already, first and foremost with the release of Rotting Christ’s new album Rituals early in the year. But for 2015, here goes…
1. Thy Catafalque – Sgúrr (Season Of Mist)
Definitely the most delightful surprise of 2015. Following the incredible 2011 album Rengeteg, I became a huge fan of the talent and musicianship of Tamás Kátai, as this is a one-man project, and his vast and diverse musical wizardry is way above and beyond what most other musicians present. The musical direction Tamás takes on Sgúrr is hugely different than what is presented on Rengeteg and the earlier albums, one might say colder, bleaker and harsher, where ‘f.e. Jura’, a straight forward blisteringly fast black metal track made my jaw drop, as it was wholly unexpected. I can really say the same about pretty much every track on the album, which is a phenomenal roller coaster ride through amazing variety of styles and sounds. Just listen to ‘Oldódó Formák a Halál Titokzatos Birodalmáb’, a 15:21 minute ride through a sublime variety of styles and a showcase track on just how multi-talented Tamás Kátai is. A beautiful work of art.
2. Lost Soul – Atlantis: The New Beginning (Apostasy Records)
Yes, they fucking did it again. These Polish wizards, led by mainman Jacek Grecki, pretty much blew everyone’s mind back in 2009 with their absolutely phenomenal Immerse In Infinity album, which shared the top-slot on my list back then with my favorite, and ever so lovable Finns in Amorphis (more on them later). Lost Soul are finally back after 6 long years, but the wait was so worth it. Atlantis is every bit as fast and brutal, yet Grecki and his merry men have managed to push their music further into the technical and progressive realms, bringing you one, if not THE pinnacle of technical death metal offerings of all-times. Listening to this album leaves me dumb-struck with awe, every-single-time, such is the wizardry performed here. Perfection!
3. Melechesh – Enki (Nuclear Blast)
5 years after the release of the fantastic The Epigenesis album, and after a plethora of lineup changes, Melechesh return with Enki, yet another masterpiece of an album. Uncompromising as always, adhering to their sublime Middle Eastern music influenced extreme metal concoction, Melechesh apparently can do no wrong. While The Epigenesis took a tad more progressive turn, with sublimely heavy and thundering songs, Enki returns back to the faster, more intense songwriting as presented on their earlier albums, such as Emissaries and Sphynx. I was fortunate enough to finally see the band on stage last May, and the experience was mind-blowing. Among the best musical entities on the planet. Period.
4. Amorphis – Under the Red Cloud (Nuclear Blast)
As a very, very long time fan of the band, their current lineup, starting with their absolute best album, Eclipse (2006), almost every album since has been a tour-de-force, showcasing the enormous capacity of the bands collective skills in songwriting and musicianship, as well as being one of the hardest working bands out there, as this is their 6th full-length album in only 9 years. Under the Red Cloud very much takes up the thread from the stellar 2013 album, Circle, but the band is in absolute top-form here, as every song on the album is outstanding. Songs like ‘The Four Wise Ones’, ‘Bad Blood’, ‘Dark Path’, and the phenomenal ‘Tree of Ages’, have made the album my most heavily rotated album from the band since 2006, and there is no letting up on how often I spin it. Masterpiece.
5. Clutch – Psychic Warfare (Weathermaker Music)
Yes indeed, here‘s another super-hard working band which has been dishing out release after release of superior quality since, well, forever. Their 2004 album Blast Tyrant is perhaps my favorite rock album of all-time, and their subsequent albums, albeit all having different qualities, none really came close to it in overall groove and fierceness, until now. Psychic Warfare absolutely hits every mark of excellence that Blast Tyrant presented. Every song is superb, the lyrics are fantastic, and the whole album pops and clicks on every beat, every groove, and infuses that good old feeling of strapping on an air-guitar and do a bit of headbanging while singing along to Neil Fallon’s often hysterically funny rants and phrases. As I write this, there are only 2 days until I see the band onstage for the first time, and the anticipation for seeing the tracks from this album presented is making me all giddy. Woohoo!
6. Keep of Kalessin – Epistemology (Indie Recordings)
This is an album I actually had high expectations for, specially after hearing the 2013 EP Introspection, which was the first release from the band following Arnt “Obsidian C.” Grønbech taking over the vocal duties after Thebon‘s departure earlier that year. Their first full-length album in 5 years, I was supremely happy to hear that Keep of Kalessin is very much up to the task as a three-piece outfit, and musically, the album is a healthy blend of the more commercial aspect of 2009‘s Reptilian and the earlier fierce and blazingly fast Armada (2006) and Kolossus (2008). Stand-out tracks and passages on the album are many, but the pinnacle is most certainly ‘The Grand Design’, a track that easily rivals the best of their earlier works, and was absolutely amazing to witness on stage. The band is in top-form at the moment and I can‘t wait for the successor, just hope that I won‘t have to wait 5 years for it.
7. George Kollias – Invictus (Season of Mist)
This master of extreme metal drumming certainly has had a busy schedule in recent years, touring and playing with Nile, as well as releasing drum lesson videos and attending drum clinics, but there were a couple of his own songs available on YouTube, rough mixed and non-vocal demos. Very cool stuff, but nothing that really prepared me for the delicious death metal assault he put together on this first solo album of his. It is a showcase of enormous death metal talent, as Kollias plays every instrument on the album, as well as performing vocals, but the album also features guest performances from many prominent musicians, such as Karl Sanders and Dallas Toler-Wade (Nile), George Emmanuel (Rotting Christ) and Efthimis Karadimas (Nightfall), to name but a few. Overall a fantastic death metal trip, modern in technicality, speed, sound and feel, blended with a healthy dose of some old school riffing, but what really amazed me the most is Kollias‘ vocal performance, which ranks among the best I‘ve heard in a long time. Highly recommended.
8. Hate – Crvsade: Zero (Napalm Records)
Being a very early release this year, as it came out in late January, this album has had way more spins than many other albums on my list, but it is definitely to its credit that it ends up on my Top 10 list, as the re-playability of the album is phenomenal. Mainman Adam “ATF Sinner” Buszko and his band mates strengthen the already very impressive legacy of the band and their highly energetic style of death metal getting stronger with each subsequent album. One of my favorite bands for sure.
9. Nile – What Should Not Be Unearthed (Nuclear Blast)
Another album I had really high expectations for in 2015, and they were not betrayed. Nile have been on a remarkably consistent roll since the release of Those Whom The Gods Detest in 2009, followed by At the Gate of Sethu (2012) which has since then bulldozed its way to being my second all-time favorite album by the band. The band pulls no left hooks here, plowing onwards and upwards with their instantly recognizable brand of death metal mastery. Super-heavy, blazing fast and tremendously well executed, track after track just thunders through and the confidence and coherence displayed by the band is absolutely why they are one of the biggest extreme metal acts in the world today.
10. Malevolent Creation – Dead Man‘s Path (Century Media)
Aaaah, like a warm blanket, listening to a new Malevolent Creation, one of my all-time favorite bands, is always a very pleasant experience. I’ve been following these old masters almost since the beginning of their career, and despite the very turbulent history of band members, they always manage to land on their feet, providing me with that deliciously violent old-school death metal that I love so much. Dead Man‘s Path is pure Malevolence, and the band and the music sound better than they have done since the magnificent Envenomed came out in 2000. No-one can destroy this Malevolent Creation.
It’s a bit hard to fathom that Nile guitarist and mastermind Karl Sanders is still creating some of the unholy sounds in extreme metal at the age of 52. Other musicians at that age are releasing Lou Reed collaborations that only serve to undermine their legacies. Not Nile.
The Nile modus operandi on eighth studio album What Should Not Be Unearthed (Nuclear Blast) remains the same. Healthy doses of Egyptian mysticism and history (sample: “We must cut off the head of the Spinx. Timeless guardian of the ancient pharaohs”) with the occasional dash of Lovecraftian imagery set to the kind of searing death metal that recalls prime Morbid Angel. Maybe that’s why I have such an affinity for Sanders and his art, he was there to pick up the pieces when Morbid Angel was losing creative steam being dogged down by unsuccessful experimentation.
Experimentation is kept a very base minimum here as the album opens to aural punishment that is ‘Call to Destruction.’ We are then hit with the swift hyperblast one-two of ‘Negating the Abominable Coils of Apep’ and ‘Liber Stellae – Rubaeae.’ This is the kind of fiery death metal that hurts so good like Dying Fetus or early Gorguts. Also for the real tech heavy crowd check the finger cramping opening riff in ‘Evil To Cast Out Evil.’
But it’s not all fire and brimstone as death jams like ‘In the Name of Amun’ and ‘Age of Famine’ give way to breadth and dizzying tempo changes. Title track ‘What Should Not Be Unearthed’ also follows this pattern and allows for a real nice low and slow breakdown. And even when operating at a more gradual cadence, human drum machine George Kolias makes sure to load up the double-bass pummel.
In a genre where many of their peers are still spewing out murder fantasies and are fascinated with the undead, Nile stands out with a mix of intellectual lyrics and musical proficiency. If the prog fans and metal elitists can get past the death grunts and learn to love the blast beat they may just find a band fawn over other than Dream Theater.
“It’s a weird sensation that I’m not completely stressed and fed up and ready to kill people!” declares a chirpy and distinctly non-murderous Karl Sanders as he prepares for the unleashing of the eighth Nile opus magnificus, What Should Not Be Unearthed (Nuclear Blast).
The album recording process affects different musicians in all manner of ways, from the studio genius whose improvisation and spur of the moment innovation leads to artistic magic, to those who feel swallowed by the pressure of self-doubts, of knowing they are committing something to a permanent statement; recording is a process that can reduce even the most hardened of souls to intense frustration, self-doubt and, perhaps, genocidal responses.
“I feel much less insane this time around” continues Sanders. “Our producer Neil (Kernon) is a Londoner, but he’s a Nazi at heart! He has this belief that if you press people you can push them to discover new found creative levels of energy, but this time around it was really chilled. He wasn’t down here with us in South Carolina, he stayed in Chicago and we were uploading files to him and it was a very relaxed process. There were no levels of insanity.”
To what level of “prepared” does one of the premier technical Death Metal bands out there get to prior to hitting record?
“Generally we try to work everything out in pre-production, and then work on it in rehearsal. But it always happens that, as we’re actually recording it, the song continues to evolve, because when you hear it back in its more finished form you can get a different perspective on it.
“It’s certainly a lower stress level (recording digitally) because you can go back as many times as you need until you like it. Back in the old days you had to fucking play it.
“Conversely, I recently, last couple of years, have really become fond of music made before the computer age, like Al Green or Earth Wind and Fire; amazing bands that had to lay it down right there, together. You had to get your shit together then. It was an entirely higher level of preparation and consistency that you had to deliver.”
With the very precise, technical playing, with lots of picking, a flurry of finger movements within every set of bars, there has to be less freedom in what you’re all playing; it has to have that military precision to sound right. “You’re absolutely right, my friend. There does seem to be less freedom, which is sometimes frustrating, because you want to be able to hear the musical idea so you have to stay very much on course with very little freedom to improvise. I know that it drives death metal drummers crazy as they often have to be very careful about what they do and what they don’t do. It’s maddening.”
Sanders is an engaging, erudite and a touch eccentric an individual, relaxing with a morning coffee and sitting on a severely beastly album. Despite being vaunted and hailed from their visceral debut Amongst The Catacombs of Nephren-Ka (Relapse) – which we’ll get to in part 2 of this feature –Sanders clearly cares deeply about his band maintaining and exceeding standards, and this from a band that has several genuine classics in their canon, and come into What Should Not Be Unearthed off the back of a very strong album. Most bands have a drop off after album three or four, At The Gates of Sethu came fifteen years deep…
“We’re very motivated and we’re relentless on ourselves. I gotta say, people’s perception of our level depends on who you’re asking. I would agree, the last record was super surgical, (there was) a level of clean-ness about that record here-to-for unprecedented, though Neil would call that a double redundancy, there were some people that really didn’t like that record, but that doesn’t detract from the fact we put a lot of fucking work into that fucking thing. And that’s really where our focus stays, on what we’re working on now, the rest is too much to worry about.”
Sanders has a chuckle before continuing. “You can drive yourself insane trying to worry about the permutations and consequences. Man, you just got to make music and shut up, as Frank Zappa says.”
When Nile started, print reviews, fan letters and sales were about the only way to gauge how you were doing and what people thought of your band. Nowadays it takes seconds to Google yourself. It must be very hard not to get caught up and to get that balance right of what people want and expect, but to stay true to yourself and keep doing your thing too, and to stop what fans (or otherwise) are saying about your craft from seeping in…
“I’d say it seeps in a lot,” comes the knowing laugh. “Some of the more drastic fluctuations in my mindset and mental health over the last 2 decades are directly because of that.” Yet, as a celebrated band leader of a band with thousands of fans and supporters, why is it the negative that impacts? “It’s so easy to see the feedback and there’s a natural artistic thing where you do care what your fans have to say, you do care how they feel about what you do, it’s so natural and human.
“But it’s a multiple edged sword because there’s a madness at the end of that path, and I’ve been down it a few times and I can say it is dangerous to your wellbeing to give too much of a fuck about what other people are saying.”
If you are the kind of heavy music fan that enjoys fast drumming with catchy guitar riffs and a hint of blackened death metal, then George Kollias is your man. Coming from Nile fame, the heavy metal world knows George and his accomplishments as a drummer. However, he comes out swinging on his solo début, Invictus (Season of Mist). Outside a handful of guest guitar solos and guest vocals, George recorded all the rest of the instruments for the record. With eleven tracks that clock in around the fifty-four minute mark, there is enough glorious death metal to make even the crabbiest elitist entertained!
Track by track I found myself whistling guitar riff after guitar riff as they get more catchy with each song. It was tough picking out the favorites on this release as each song has its own interesting personality even after a handful of times through the album. I found the tracks that stood above the rest were the ones that sounded like new Behemoth or Septicflesh songs. Of course I am not saying George did covers or is “ripping them off”, but more in the sense that he was clearly influenced by his peers other work to help shape what he wanted Invictus to sound like. There are four tracks right in a row that I cannot seem to listen to unless they are right in order: ‘Aeons of Burning Galaxies’, ‘Shall Rise/Shall Be Dead’, ‘Voices’, and ‘Treasures of Nemesis’. I have caught myself at work on more than a few occasions either whistling the guitar riffs or smacking my two index fingers off of my desk as if I was George Kollias himself behind a set. Not taking anything away from the rest of the album (yes it is that good), but I just felt most connected to this stretch of the album.
Overall, I am more than pleased with the work done by Mr. Kollias here. Aside from the noted guests, George can play guitar, and boy can he play it well. Vocally he’s also quite gifted too! While not anything completely unique to the death metal world in terms of sound, Invictus has proven to all that George Kollias the solo artist is the real deal. Look out Dave Grohl, someone else in the world can play as many instruments as you do!
WORDS BY TIM LEDIN
South Carolina technical death metallers Nile are currently recording guitars for their upcoming album, due summer 2015 via Nuclear Blast.
Drummer George Kollias recently gave an update on the band in a recent interview:
“[We’ll] release the album around June. And we have a European tour with Suffoca in September/October, and we’re talking about a U.S. tour, maybe, [starting in] mid-November.”
In regards to a possible album title:
“We’re not sure yet, so I can’t really tell. But if the one we have right now… I mean, we have a title, but, seriously, it’s not the final one. But if that’s the final one — I mean, if this is gonna be the title — it’s one of our songs which is the most difficult song I’ve ever played in my life. Like, seriously, it’s so hard to play. We were working on this song for three days. This has never happened with Nile — working on one song for three days. It’s never happened. It’s a song that, if you’re a drummer, and you wanna play it, or a guitar player as well, you’re gonna have troubles. [Laughs] It’s not that long. I think it’s around six minutes or something… But it’s crazy. Totally crazy.”