Nile‘s Egyptian-ness is no longer merely a shtick. After 16 years, , Middle Eastern tonalities are now so deeply ingrained in Nile that they seem inevitable. In metal’s mongrel tradition, guitarists like Kirk Hammett and Dave Mustaine mixed blues, classical, and Middle Eastern licks, sometimes within the same solo. Not so in Nile, who compose and arrange with meticulous single-mindedness.

Permitting the Noble Dead to Descend to the Underworld

Yet that focus has matured enough to become multi-dimensional. Vocalist/guitarist Karl Sanders alludes to this in the liner notes to Those Whom the Gods Detest (Nuclear Blast, 2009). Nile’s older style of writing set ancient Egyptian (and occasionally Lovecraftian) texts as faithfully as possible to music. Now Sanders is playing with text, and the results are magic. (He explains how the ancient Egyptians believed speech to have magical power.) “Kafir” subverts Islam’s “There is no God but God” mantra by subtracting the last two words; the title track blasphemes by adding “not” to holy language. It’s thrilling to hear metal work on another level than just guitars.

Still, guitars are paramount in metal, and here they are unparalleled. Nile have figured out that “Lashed to the Slave Stick” is their most memorable song because it doesn’t move at warp speed. Now songs mix blasting with chugging, and drill refrains into the brain. “4th Arra of Dagon” may be the heaviest thing I’ve heard this year. The band has also learned to balance high end with low end. “Permitting the Noble Dead to Descend to the Underworld” jabs with precision in the lower register, then floats an insistent, squealing motif overhead. “Less is more” is never something I thought I’d associate with Nile.

Since Nile records are so relentless, I tend to respect them rather than enjoy them. But for the first time since Black Seeds of Vengeance, I am giving into one. The production is much to credit. It’s clean and powerful, but not over-polished. Drummer George Kollias doesn’t sound so robotic now and sometimes sounds almost funky. The result is that I can sink into this record. Like good science fiction, it takes me to another place, namely, hellish pits of torment in chambers below the pyramids. Actually, they’re not so hellish because they come with great reading material. Karl Sanders’ liner notes are still the best in the business. They’re voluminous, informative, insightful, and humorous. Perhaps the best way to get people to buy CD’s is to provide something substantial to read inside.

– Cosmo Lee

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