Review Summary: As the album that would help define Nile's sound in subsequent years, Black Seeds of Vengeance is an essential album for fans of the band, and of course 'exotic' death metal in general.
After the success of Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka, Nile set out to expand the scope of their particular brand of death metal with their sophomore effort. By extending the average song length, and highlighting the increased technicality, Black Seeds of Vengeance allowed the band to fulfill the promise made by their first entry.
After the brief introduction of 'Invocation of the Gate of Aat-Ankh-es-en-Amenti,' whose title may take one more time to pronounce than the track's duration, the first proper song erupts with ample aplomb. 'Black Seeds of Vengeance' establishes the template for much of the album, with intricate and interweaving guitar riffs supported by Derek Roddy's frantic yet precise drumming; all in the framework of a dynamic and carefully crafted song structure. Here, the keyboards and chants are integrated more seamlessly into the mix, and while they at times sacrifice some of the spontaneity from 'Catacombs, it creates a decidedly 'larger' soundscape when the songs reach their climaxes, and are all the more 'epic' and satisfying for it.
That is not to say that the songs lack variation, either. Passages of clean, acoustic guitar and of course more exotic instruments that are staples of Nile's discography are utilized at key points. Additionally, the compositions of individual tracks aren't really identical, even if they seem to blur together upon first listen. 'The Black Flame' and its wonderfully 'doomy' opening and closing riffs are markedly distinct from the furry and pomp of the hysterically titled, 'Masturbating the War God.' The songs on 'Black Seeds are not as anthemic as those on Nile's more recent releases, but each track contains details and other production-related nuances that separate them (such as the pained shrieks on Nas Akhu Khan She En Asbiu), culminating in the album's absolute highlight, 'To Dream of Ur'; the first Nile track to come close to the ten minute mark, and interestingly the only one on the album to feature Pete Hammoura on drums.
The production on this disc, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. There is a respectable amount of bottom-end, and the grit lends a certain atmosphere (think of the guitars as a sandstorm chipping away at ancient stone, and you'll get the picture), but it also lacks clarity when the band goes in overdrive, and they do so often. It may be due to the increased complexity on this album, but for whatever reason the mix doesn't work quite as effectively as it did on the similarly produced 'Catacombs. Still, it does not detract from the overall experience too severely.
This album marked a number of 'firsts' for Nile; it is the first to feature guitarist and vocalist Dallas Toler-Wade, who does only backing vocals here, but contributes notably to the added complexity of the songs' compositions, and it is also the first time Karl Sanders took the time to indulge fans their curiosity about the songs' historical and symbolic references. The liner notes are a joy to read for those inclined, and are written with the kind of enthusiasm and authority one would expect from someone with a degree in Egyptology, though Sanders has denied having one.
In many ways, Black Seeds of Vengeance is the blueprint for many of Nile's subsequent releases; a formula that would later be perfected on their next album, In Their Darkened Shrines. It is simultaneously epic and brutal, and always entertaining, yet thoughtful. It is an essential Nile record, and not to be dismissed.