Death metal has been a constant in my life for well over 30 years (yes, I’m a bit old). Within that time frame Incantation and Nile have been an integral part of that genre and have consistently released album after killer album. So, when they announced The Age of Vile Divinities Tour, I knew I couldn’t miss it. The openers for this tour are Dallas, Texas I Am, and Columbus, Ohio’s Sanguisugabogg– both new up and comers to the metal scene.
In addition to signing Death Metal legends Nile to Napalm Records for a new album releasing in 2022, the label has also revealed the additional signing of the band’s own mastermind Karl Sanders’ solo project, with plans to release brand new music from Saurian next year as well.
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
Jarboe, or Jarboe La Salle Devereaux as she is known to her accountant, is also the other founding member of the legendary Swans. So, no pressure there, then. She’s also shockingly busy, with a looooong discography, and a new ambient/experimental rock album, Cut Of The Warrior (Translation Loss Records) out this month. But is it her swan song, or will it break this reviewer’s arm?Continue reading
Technical Death Metal legends Nile are hard are work creating what will become their new album, which will be their ninth overall. The album, which will be the first to feature new guitarist/vocalist Brian Kingsland, who replaced Dallas Toler-Wade (Narcotic Wasteland) last year, and will release on Nuclear Blast Records. Their last record was What Should Not Be Unearthed, which came out in 2015. Watch the band recording a new track in the video below.Continue reading
Nile recently announced that they parted ways with longtime guitarist/vocalist Dallas Toler-Wade, and will be moving forward with Brian Kingsland. Continue reading
Damn. This is a bummer. Nile has officially parted ways with Dallas Toler-Wade, and welcomes Brian Kingsland into the band. Continue reading
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.
Karl Sanders of Nile. Photo by Hannah Verbeuren
“I’ve really become sick to death of where some bands have taken this idea of Technical Death Metal. What Should Not Be Unearthed (Nuclear Blast) is what I’ve been referring to as an “anti-technique” album. We are playing what’s generally called Technical Death Metal, but I see people playing songs that are composed of fast arpeggios, and tapping, and just a barrage of insane riffs that are all awesome, don’t get me wrong, but I walk away from it going ‘That was fucking awesome but I can’t remember a goddamn thing I just listened to’.”
Karl Sanders of Nile. is right. The death of the song, particularly in extreme metal, is a personal bugbear, as what made classic Death Metal great was that despite the raging, despite the brutality and extremity and full on technical ability of a lot of the greats of the genre, Death Metal used to be about songs. Many bands now are so concerned with showing off their flawless technique they’ve forgotten about “the song”. It’s a concept I remember speaking to Trey Azagthoth (a long-time friend of Sanders) back on the Formulas Fatal To The Flesh (Earache) tour, that technique is there to help you achieve the soundscapes and ideas in your head, but it should never be about how quick your fingers can flurry up and down the fretboard, how fucked-up a jazzy passage can be; unless it benefits the song, what is the point…?
“This album is anti-technique. I said to myself when I was writing “I’m not going to give a fuck whether this riff is hard to play, or whether it’s tricky or whether it’s simple or whatever the fuck it is, it doesn’t fucking matter. What matters is that it’s heavy, and I fucking like it. It might be a simple riff. It might mean it’s a tough riff. But the idea is the song is of paramount importance, and the riff is just a means to frigging get there.
“It’s automatically assumed, like a given in geometry – whenever you do a geometric equation, you start with a set of givens, they give you that, it’s bang, you gotta start there – being able to play your guitar is a given in technical metal; if you can’t play, you don’t get to walk through the door.
“So, this idea of anti-technique was mentally very liberating, it helped us to think “Let’s just write songs that fans will fucking appreciate, and we’ll have fun playing” and that’s the only concern we will go by.”
The Morbid Angel’s, the Death’s, even the Cannibal Corpse’s of this world possess or possessed some incredible musicians, but they all got to the status they did through writing great songs. It’s a shame that the skill seems to be getting lost in a flurry of arpeggios and syncopation.
“I don’t think it’s fair to the people listening to it. I think there’s a symbiotic, yin and yang relationship with the listener. For music to exist, someone has got to play it and someone’s got to listen to it. And if you don’t care about both sides of the equation, the shit will get out of fucking balance, and I think there’s been a lot of disrespect for listeners in recent years.”Nile. Photo by Hannah Verbeuren.
I recently had the joy of reading and reviewing ‘Choosing Death’ by Albert Mudrian. In it he highlighted that when Nile first burst on the scene, Death Metal was flagging. He mentioned you as the leaders of the Rebirth of Death Metal, and the band that helped “save” Death Metal… Did it feel like that at the time, was it an inspiration or the metaphoric albatross?
“It’s kinda like the Life of Brian movie. Brian is not actually a messiah, but everyone just thinks he is. We were just doing what we do, and for whatever reason, the wheels of fate were spinning, we found ourselves in a position where, even though we were at a point where Death Metal had died out, we were just playing what the fuck we liked. We didn’t care if it was popular or not, and had no thought of the bigger picture, or our place in it. So, we’re like the reluctant messiah.
“It’s like we opened the door, and the room was a mess, and we found a vacuum cleaner in our hands.”
Perhaps coming to the scene a bit later in life than some of their contemporaries helped to avoid producing the bloated, boring Death Metal of the late 90’s. Though Sanders was around, and knew many of the original greats, it wasn’t until a near decade after the birth of Death Metal that Nile became a serious entity…
“I think when you’ve lived a little bit of life, you look at things differently and see more. I’d seen enough of my comrades fall by the wayside. The road to your band getting somewhere is literally littered on each side with the wreckage of those who have gone before and failed. It’s easy to see other people failing, so by the time it was our turn, we could see enough to scare us into staying on the road.”
Death Metal, with reluctant saviours Nile a key part of its’ resurrection, is now as popular as it has ever been, particularly in terms of live tickets, and festivals often see acts like Carcass and At The Gates high up the bills. Yet where does Sanders see Nile? Are they one of the “historic” acts; a “classic” Death Metal band, or a current band?
“We see ourselves as still working hard to bring our music to the people, with still a lot of work to be done and places to go and still lots of things we want to achieve as a band. We had a very similar discussion the other day at a band meeting and it was decided we were going to play 6 songs from the new record. Maybe bands of our age, we’ve got 20 plus years as Nile, wouldn’t be saying that, they’d be saying which one or two songs of this new record should we play as we have to play all this old stuff.
“There are elements of our audience that will get angry if they don’t hear “that song”, and we respect that, and we realize that and do care about it, but we also care about staying vital and pushing forward.
“In life you have to walk with confidence, because how you present yourself is how people perceive you. So, if you want people to think your album sucks, don’t play it!”
“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.”