Review Summary: At the Gate of Monotony
Nile have been around for Anubis knows how long, and every time they put out a new album we as death metal fans always give listen and be wondered by the insane speed, the furious intensity, and the Egyptian influences, both lyrically and musically. Their previous album, Those Whom the Gods Detest, was in my top 10 albums of 2009. Songs like Kafir, 4th Arra of Dagon, and the absolutely epic title track rank among the best songs Nile has ever put out. Now three years later we're holding audience to yet another new album by the South Carolinians, and to be honest there's not a lot here that we haven't heard from this band in the past. There's a multitude of problems, from the rather ***ty production to the general feeling of "been there, heard that" throughout this album. Musically the album is sufficient, but in terms of memorability I don't think I'll be switching Cast Down the Heretic off for almost any song on here anytime soon.
One of the major problems I have with At the Gate of Sethu is that there's not a whole lot of new stuff here. As mentioned, there's a big old feeling of having heard pretty much every song here before, only on much consistently better records like Annihilation of the Wicked. Here and there there'll be something that pops out and makes you go "whoa, didn't see that coming", but for the most part I've heard most of these songs before, just on different records from Nile's past. The major reason for this is that Nile are a speed based band. I'm a big fan of fast extreme metal, but Nile's way of doing it can get very old very quickly. They thankfully do have a standard Nile doom metal epic though in the form of the album closer The Chaining of the Iniquitous. Tracks like When My Wrath is Done and The Gods Who Light Up the Sky at the Gate of Sethu (yeah, almost every song title on the album is a run on sentence) start off slow and crushing, but quickly devolve back into the same monotonous hyperblasting and the same monotonous guitar tweedling. Even worse is that a few songs don't even have proper endings; they just sort of stop dead in their tracks. Case in point, I had to go back and listen to the album again before writing this review because I genuinely did not remember one thing about it aside from The Fiends Who Come to Steal the Magick of the Deceased. Hell, the tracks that stick with me the most even after another full listen are the two Egyptian music interludes, which are absolutely breathtaking. Shame there aren't more of them on here.
The other major problem I have with the album is the production. Holy ***, this album sounds bad. The guitars do thankfully sound like guitars unlike some past records of Nile's, but they're still WAY too thin for my tastes. The drums are incredibly clicky and annoying, which is a shame because George Kollias's playing is probably the best part of the album. The bass is nonexistent, as is stupidly common in extreme metal productions today. While I applaud the production sound for not only having the guitars be audible among the musical cacophony as well as it not being compressed to hell, that's not saying much when the sound is as thin as it is. The individual musicians's performances on the record are superb, as one would expect from a band like Nile. Dallas Toller-Wade and Karl Sanders shred away on the guitars with skill and precision, and George Kollias once again shows why he's one of the best drummers in extreme metal today. It's a damn shame they couldn't write better material to compliment their skills though. The vocals on this album are, as many have pointed out on message boards and comment sections the internet over, very weird at times, and I like that. It's one of the few aspects of the album that didn't bore me to death. Both Dallas and Karl are very powerful vocalists, so you can always expect that aspect of a Nile record to be good no matter what the music is like.
Overall, this album is a giant bore. Aside from the vocals it doesn't really do much in the way of progressing Nile along the musical path. Sticking to one sound an entire career is not inherently a bad thing. Just look at Slayer and Cannibal Corpse. But whereas Cannibal Corpse has made slight variations to their sound over the years to keep listeners on their toes and attentive (and headbanging), Nile have made the same album again that they've made the last two or three times, only much less interesting than the last two or three albums before this one. And quite frankly, that to me is the sign of a band that is running out of steam. If you want some quality death metal that's been released this year, I recommend Torture by Cannibal Corpse, Global Flatline by Aborted, and the masterpiece of 2012 so far known as Monolith of Inhumanity by Cattle Decapitation. All are much more interesting than At the Gate of Sethu.