Review Summary: Death Metal's kings of Egyptology enthusiastically shred and worship Osiris...again.
If one is in need of music that is merciless enough to damn your enemies into the darkest depths of the underworld (or possibly intense enough to bring back those who have already crossed over) then look no further than the extreme metal that is brought forth every couple of years by the kind South Carolinan boys in Nile. Torturous to listen to of one’s favorite music falls under the “Taylor Swift” category, Nile are the curators of some of the most extreme music ever created on this planet thus far. They are truly brutal, but they don’t place that quality above everything else like many modern deathcore bands, for example, that whip out their “br00tality” and wave it all over the place when, in all actuality, their music sounds a bit silly, even laughable. Nile is no-nonsense and there’s absolutely nothing funny about them, and while many will roll their eyes at their strong emphasis on ancient Egypt (the exclusive topic of their lyrics), no one should deny their tremendous level of musical integrity. At this point, Nile have become death metal Deities and dauntless defenders of the metal faith, and the world is a heavier place with them on it.
At the Gates of Sethu - an album that this reviewer bypassed when it came out in 2012 for whatever reason - is yet another display of Nile’s valiant efforts to make the most brutal technical death metal around and uphold their status as the genre’s finest, however, their commitment to their signature sound has led to something a little negative: predictability. A lot of the material on here, while it is satisfying death metal, just sounds like standard issue Nile; the same Middle Eastern riffs, the same drum fills, and the same slow, doomy breaks in the same places are all being thrown at the listener once again, creating a sense of having seen something many times before which may give the band’s detractors some ammo. “Tribunal of the Dead”, for example, could literally be any Nile song because of how utterly interchangeable the various riffs and other parts of the song sound, which might leave you longing for the band to be more spontaneous and throw something your way that’s actually unexpected or unorthodox for the band to do. While many fans could conceivably be content with how unwavering Nile has proven to be, others may shrug their shoulders in apathy and be left headbanging in a different direction.
This isn’t to say that Nile hasn’t made any changes whatsoever on this new release. There may not be anything “new” in sight on At the Gates of Sethu, but there are some minor tweaks to their existing sound worth noting. The most obvious change made over their previous album – the excellent Those Whom the Gods Detest – is a much more crude and earthy production style. In an interview with Decibel magazine, Nile mastermind Karl Sanders stated that he wants the listeners to “be able to hear our fingers on the strings” with this new record, and this album’s more organic sound allows for that. While the mixing is admittedly a little shoddy with different instruments set at peculiar levels, the production harkens back to their classic album In Their Darkened Shrines, albeit a little more clear and detailed and less compressed. There’s also (gasp!) slightly less emphasis on technical wizardry this time around. The emphasis has shifted away from dizzying and knotty lead lines and more toward riffs that are more catchy and contained, allowing for violent headbanging to take place. This, and the fact that the production has been reduced to an unrefined form, leaves the band sounding less finessed while also sounding more aggressive, urgent, and forthright.
Keeping with the band’s predictability trend, albeit a positive aspect of it, the performances here are exactly what you would expect from Nile. Dallas Toller-Wade and Karl Sanders’ combined technique is inscrutable, leaving many extreme metal guitarists in the dust gasping for a breath of clean air. The duo’s guitar soloing is better than it’s ever been; their solos are executed more fluidly and precisely than on past Nile albums and should put a grin on many shredder’s faces. Drummer George Kollias is a beast as usual with his seemingly demon-inspired approach to smashing and bashing. His blast beats are rhythmically astute to the point of sounding like a machine; in short, this guy has chops to burn. However, the vocals on this album have unfortunately taken a hit. They tend to be all over the place and oftentimes are sung with no rhythm, leaving things sounding a bit messy. Dallas also experiments with a higher register scream that comes across a little undercooked, even ill-conceived, but It’s a minor quibble considering how primal and hungry Nile sounds on this album overall.
Nile are quickly joining the ranks of bands like Cannibal Corpse as an “Old Faithful” of death metal, spewing out a furious geyser of brutality every couple of years to show other extreme metal musicians how to play with conviction without sacrificing technicality, and to show fans how death metal is supposed to be done in a scene rife with bland imitators. While this is a little step down from Those Whom the Gods Detest, At the Gates of Sethu is by no means a disappointment, at least to me, although it might be in the eyes of some fans. If Nile continues to play this style to death on their next album, more points will surely be knocked off, but for now, we should all be happy that we have yet another Nile album in our hands as a soundtrack to passionately worship Osiris with.