Review Summary: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
For over a decade now, Nile have been pushing the limits of their distinctive sound. While the quality of their discography shows that may not be a bad thing, when you consider that their latest offering is essentially “In Their Darkened Shrines pt.5”, you begin to wonder how much a band can extract from a particular formula before it becomes redundant. As a squad of exceptionally skilled musicians stuck in an artistic rut, they’re required to set the bar so high for themselves that topping their previous efforts seems like an almost insurmountable task. With their monolithic 2009 offering “Those Whom The God’s Detest” now considered by many to be Nile’s yardstick, “At The Gates of Sethu” faces an uphill struggle to stand on its own as another worthwhile inclusion to Nile’s catalogue.
But despite the weight of the death metal world on their shoulders, Nile have still produced a top notch album, filled with blistering riffs, pummelling blast beats and otherworldly brutal vocals. At first, the listener is immersed by the sound of crackling fire, indecipherable whispers, blood-curdling screams and Nile’s ever-prevalent middle-eastern melodies before everything gently fades into obscurity. Promptly setting the tempo to about 240bpm, Nile proceed to batter the now mesmerised listener with a flurry of complex riff patterns and a petrifying vocal duo courtesy of Sanders and Toler-Wade. For the first three tracks, these guys are relentless in their pursuit of sheer brutality, not letting up for fourteen and half minutes, leaving you in a state of delirium. “Slaves of Xul” serves the purpose of breaking up the onslaught and leading into the album’s centrepiece, the eponymous “Gods Who Light Up the Sky At the Gate of Sethu”. Silly name aside, the track is a testament to Nile’s technical and song writing capabilities, featuring a multitude of frenetic, modal riffs and breakneck tempo shifts.
However, despite all the technical flair, it can’t compensate for some rather glaring flaws, with the production is the most obvious one. On previous albums you were immersed in a wall of sound, but here, (for the sake of clarity I assume?) the guitar tone is incredibly thin. While the riffs and drum patterns are now more decipherable than ever, the watered down sound engineering does take a lot of bite out of the would be stronger moments on this album. Strangely, this album also entirely lacks Nile’s signature 8+ minute epics like we are usually accustomed to. The longest track on the album is the closer which clocks in at a relatively puny 7 minutes and 5 seconds, the second longest track doesn’t even top 6 minutes for that matter. Whether this is Nile listening to the polarised opinions on their longer, some would say “boring” tracks, I don’t know. All I know is some of the longer and slower songs on their previous albums did well in adding variety to their music and certainly worked better than scattering a few brief transitional pieces throughout.
Regardless, “At The Gates of Sethu” is another commendable effort from the band. George Kollias continues to impress behind the kit and Karl and Dallas still wield their guitars with surgical precision. While “At The Gate of Sethu” doesn’t soar to the heights that “Annihilation of The Wicked” or “Those Whom The God’s Detest” did, it still demonstrates that Nile are still a formidable force in the field of tech-death, nearly 20 years after their inception.