Nile return with fire-breathing intensity, renewed focus on ‘At the Gate of Sethu’

Many people seem to mellow with age. It’s only natural that as you get older, the angst and fury that once burned in your heart would calm as more important matters take precedence. Or you just get tired and don’t feel like being a ball of rage anymore. Whatever’s to blame, there’s no big mystery why porch sitting becomes more popular with folks as they age.

And so it often goes with music. Bands mature and ease into their lives, embrace different styles of music, and as a result change things up a bit. Wait until you hear the new Baroness record. You’re in for a surprise. Even a band like Metallica, who have tried so hard to prove they can thrash again, just don’t have that organic energy. They grew out of it, or at least that’s what I always figured.

Then you get to Nile, the long-running, ancient Egypt-themed death metal band and their progressive, virtuosic brand of carnage. You typically know what to expect from one of their records, and while that’s never disappointing, there’s little mystery as to what they’re going to do. You’re going to get classic-style death metal with a few Middle Eastern musical flourishes, great guitar work, a whole lot of stuff to research, and that’s about it. Not a bad package, to be honest. But as far as listening to one of their albums and being totally surprised, not likely.

That held pretty true until their album “At the Gate of Sethu” arrived. This, the seventh full-length document from the South Carolina-based band, threw me for a loop right away because, holy shit, is this thing aggressive and heavy. Yeah, their previous work obviously was heavy, as death metal is wont to be, but this is many, many notches more explosive than anything they’ve done in some time. Slowing down? Calming with age? No way. If anything, they’ve got their venom glands restocked and have set out on a mission to poison the earth. This record also has stayed in my daily musical rotation, something I couldn’t say for their last two records “Ithyphallic” and “Those Whom the Gods Detest,” albums I liked just fine but that didn’t really push all my buttons. I haven’t enjoyed a Nile record this thoroughly since 2002’s “In Their Darkened Shrines,” and there’s a real sense that these guys have gone back and recaptured some of their youthful energy, as they sound reignited and reborn.

The band long has been fronted by Karl Sanders, guitar great and co-vocalist, who also is the spark for the band’s immersion in ancient Egyptian themes. Joining him as always is guitarist, co-vocalist Dallas Toler-Wade and drummer George Kollias, and new bassist Todd Ellis also has been thrown into the mix, and he even grabs some vocal duties. It’s all hands on deck for Nile, and they really hit on something with “Sethu” that helps this record reach greatness. In case you haven’t noticed, I am gushing over this album and everything it brings to the table.

Obviously the guitar work is phenomenal — it always is — but even that is stepped up more than ever. The leads are searing, the fast stuff is mind blowing, and even the insertion of well-times acoustic bits help the whole thing breathe. The vocals are just menacing as well, as each line is howled, growled, shrieked, or, in the case of the chorus of “The Fiends Who Come to Steal the Magick of the Deceased,” sung, like these guys are hungry dudes with something to prove.

There are many highlights on this album, and it has great momentum like each songs tries to top the one before, and usually succeeds. The 11-track album has a stunning start with “Enduring the Eternal Molestation of Flame,” an oddly named song with a ton of crunch, some sweeping tempo shifts, and excellent guitar work. “The Inevitable Degradation of Flesh” has furious drum blasts, a true dose of nastiness, and ominous lines such as, “All those who live will die, all those who die will rise.” “When My Wrath is Done” opens with majestically strummed sitar before igniting into a firestorm of destruction. It’s a perfectly constructed piece of carnage.

“Slaves of Xul” and “Ethno-Musicological Cannibalisms” are interludes that allow for breathers and also pace the second half, that peaks on “The Gods Who Light Up the Sky at the Gate of Sethu,” a nasty song that has a lot of classic Nile traits; “Natural Liberation,” a storming song that maintains the incredible intensity of the record; the sludgy, trudging machinations of “Tribunal of the Dead”; the classic metal and slide-guitar dressing of “Supreme Humanism of Megalomania” and closer “The Chaining of the Iniquitous” that opens with Middle Eastern woodwinds before delving into a final salvo that’s heavy, bruising, growly, and muddy. The horns that send it off? Purely Apocalyptic.

Nile really have nothing to prove to anyone. They’ve carved out an impressive career and slot as one of the modern era’s most important and respected death metal bands. They could have coasted and still pulled in tons of accolades. Instead, they reignited the flames and made a beast-like statement that Nile is not a machine that is to be taken lightly. “At the Gate of Sethu” is a fire-breather, one of the most punishing, uncompromising efforts in this band’s history, and one of their best albums ever.

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