Nile – What Should Not Be Unearthed
Music is made to move bodies.
That simple truth is too often forgotten, particularly in heavy metal. For all its instrumental dexterity, sonic weight, and dour themes, heavy metal – like any music – is intended to animate. As the most patently physical of metal’s unpruned branches, then, death metal should have the greatest capacity to move bodies – to tumble them, churn them, flatten them, whip them into arabesques of flailing limbs.
In bulking up thrash’s bones while retaining much of its rhythmic bite, death metal at its origin was defined by similar movement. Although the genre grew in different directions, the bands that hit with the most brute impact were often those which understood how to balance fleetness with force: Obituary, Morbid Angel, Immolation, Bolt Thrower, Dismember, Vader, and so on.
Throughout Nile‘s now two-decade career, Karl Sanders & Co. have demonstrated an easy mastery of that same balance by careening between punishingly precise fret-acrobatics and concrete-splitting grooves. Most crucially, even as their music expanded along the technicality axis, they knew enough to pepper their hairpin-turn transitions with massive hooks.
Think of career-spanning songs from “Black Seeds of Vengeance” to “Kafir,” or from “Stones of Sorrow” to “Lashed to the Slave Stick”; different songs from different albums, and yet each carried the same command: the listener shall become a tumult of flesh.
Although flirting with mere adequacy on Ithyphallic, it was only with their previous album At the Gate of Sethu that Nile turned in a legitimately poor album: the songs were all dull recapitulations of previous triumphs, and the sound was flat and enervated, with the guitars a thin wheeze, like an army of exhausted vacuum cleaners. On their eighth album What Should Not Be Unearthed, however, Nile has not only recovered handily from that career nadir but also produced their most unstoppable album since Annihilation of the Wicked.
In large part, What Should Not Be Unearthed is a revelation by virtue of how fully the band has rediscovered the rippling joy of a disgusting, nimble groove. The album hardly dispenses with 32nd-note riff-runs and searing, downed-wire soloing, but each of these ten finely polished songs quivers with a latent dance. Even as the band charges forward, you can hear them checking themselves on every hugely accented downbeat, priming the body for the rapture of involuntary motion. Whatever’s captured there – that potential energy tightly wound and eager to taste kinesis – is electric, and when tethered to songs as tightly written as this batch is, the result is pure magic.
The most irresistible example of this might be “In the Name of Amun,” which uses traditional Egyptian instrumentation to introduce a theme that soon becomes the song’s core riff. The band hurtles on at a rampaging pace, only to be snapped back into the most deliriously nasty half-time groove. Midway through, Sanders needles out a tremendously composed solo which skips across blasts and chunked riff-blocks, all of which culminates in a breakdown that flirts with “Creeping Death”-style crowd participation.
“Evil to Cast Out Evil” is another clear stand-out, treading the same spring-loaded rhythmic territory as Melechesh. The band transitions seamlessly between the choppering sprint of the opening motif and the fist-pumping chorus, pausing only for a sublime midsection that sees a simple guitar lead gather all other sounds around its piercing magnetism.
If any further proof is required that Nile has reclaimed its throne in no uncertain terms, the album closer “To Walk Forth from Flames Unscathed” is a nice headstone for any doubters. Built around a lurching, swaggering main riff, the song unspools into a valediction. The harmonized guitar lead that eventually becomes the theme on which the song and album fade out on is a thing of such magnitude that it’s impossible to not think of it in cinematic terms – part march, part lament as a wounded but triumphant heroine rides into the sunset while the world burns around her.
But the point is that we end as we began: your body will not be unmoved.