Tech Death Thursday: The New Kingdom of Nile
I joked on a recent article that nobody ever told me Nile was good, but there was a wee bit of truth to that: I’d heard maybe only two Nile songs ever prior to the release of “Long Shadows of Dread.” So when I got the promo for their upcoming album, Vile Nilotic Rites, I felt that I should give them my due diligence and go into their whole discography. Even I know that Nile is an essential band for the genre, perhaps even death metal as a whole, so it was well past time for this excursion.
What I found was that, much like the ancient Egypt they so adore, their career can be broken up distinctly into three different eras. As such, I’ve decided to name these eras after the epochs of the Egyptian empire: The New Kingdom, encompassing their Nuclear Blast releases; the Middle Kingdom, which covers their time spent on Relapse Records; and the Old Kingdom, consisting of the independent releases at the start of their lifespan. As with any archaeological dig, we’re going to start at the top and work our way down; thus, today, we’re going over the New Kingdom releases. Given that they’ve got a new album out tomorrow, I’ve spent the most time on that one, so let’s get to
robbing this tomb examining the relics of the past:
The first artifact unearthed from the crypts of these death metal pharaohs is Vile Nilotic Rites, the most recent release on Nuclear Blast and first following the departure of longtime guitarist Dallas Toler-Wade. It marks the end of one era and the beginning of another; Toler-Wade spent a decade in the band, spanning the bridge between the New Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom (we’ll get to that another time) and performing on all of their most celebrated works. Lineup changes are difficult for any band, but for one so iconic, it can be ruinous. We tend to like the bands we like because they sound a certain way; what happens when someone new comes in and changes that sound?
For Nile, it brought new vigor and life to the band. They incurred some ill will from their fans with At the Gate of Sethu that didn’t seem to fully subside with What Should Not Be Unearthed, but I firmly believe that Rites will assuage any fan’s fears that they are on the decline. The addition of Brian Kingsland (also of the Enthean dynasty) has moved them a touch more in a technical death metal direction while remaining fully cognizant of their brutal roots; in other words, it’s flashier, but it doesn’t sacrifice anything that makes Nile who they are. The leads in particular are a huge step up, which is no small feat—Toler-Wade is no slouch, so it really speaks to Kingsland’s raw skill that it sounds this good by comparison. The production is still cleaner than anything from the Middle Kingdom, but it’s also more robust than either Unearthed or Sethu.
Every Nile fan should be excited for Vile Nilotic Rites, and I’d be surprised if it didn’t draw in some new listeners, too. They sound reinvigorated, as ferocious as ever with all the theatrical bombast you could want. But all this is spoken of relative to their previous releases; without the context of their older works, this means very little. If you’re new to the band (as I am), then let us delve a little further, that the past may teach us of the present:
Next, we have unearthed… What Should Not Be Unearthed. Hm.
The final album to feature Toler-Wade, Unearthed is, in the greater scope of their works, Nile by the numbers. That is to say, it’s technical brutal death metal built primarily on vaguely Egyptian-sounding scales and a healthy dose of epic flair, and it rules. It was a return to a more primal sound after the clean-cut At the Gate of Sethu and is a bit more representative of what the band does as a whole. BDM it may be, but it’s their penchant for melody that defines them; for all the speed and power behind the music, it’s still very memorable. There’s some residual Sethu tech-death-mindedness hanging about (“Evil to Cast out Evil” almost sounds like a lost Psycroptic song), but it’s less clean than its predecessor, and it just feels a little more “Nile” as such. The production is still sterile compared to their older material, but it doesn’t get in the way of the music. If you want to dig your way into their discography and don’t know where to start, What Should Not Be Unearthed has my endorsement.
But for my fellow newcomers to Nile, kindred tech death archaeologists, there is much more to be had, more relics to uncover. Let’s crack open this next sarcophagus and see what’s inside…
Ah, I see! What Should Not Be Unearthed was not a reference to itself, but rather a warning about what lay further down. Hope you all like being cursed, because we’re unearthing this anyway.
At the Gate of Sethu is widely considered to be the darkest era of the New Kingdom by fellow ancient Egyptian tech death band scholars (it’s a very narrow field of study), and it’s not hard to see why. Right off the bat you’ll notice that this sounds very thin, even when compared to the prior two albums we examined. The guitars are weak, the vocals too loud, and the drums very plastic-sounding; not exactly a good look, and unfortunately one that brutal death metal fans have to contend with regularly. Moreover, however, the music feels comparatively phoned-in, relying far too much on running up and down Phrygian dominant scales with little variance from song to song. Now, that said, I don’t consider this to be a bad album; rote as it may be, there are a couple gems here, and even the worse songs are still listenable. It might not be the most unique album ever, but it catches a lot of unfair flak. I would urge my compatriots to reexamine this album with a less biased ear.
But lest we dwell too long on these dark times, we should move on. This next piece is a grand monument indeed:
Despite the confusing choice to open with a song about a fermented milk drink (or is it an Israeli combat aircraft?), Those Whom The Gods Detest is my favorite album of this era of Nile (possibly second to Vile Nilotic Rites). Simply put, this album sounds very big when put side by side with any of the others. The guitar work is still largely fast and relentless, but it’s given more space to breathe with the inclusion of a lot of imposing doomy riffs. The longer songs give them plenty of time to explore these ideas and still cram in plenty of ripping jams. “Iskander D’hul Karnon” is also one of my favorite closing tracks, with plenty of unexpected twists and turns. There are more atmospheric elements present here than on the previously discussed albums, and I feel that helps elevate it above the rest. It’s still a fairly straightforward album, but distinct enough to set it apart from the rest of Nile’s discography.
If you’re still with me, we’ve got one final chamber to open:
Ah, there’s that dirty guitar tone I love. Ithyphallic marked the beginning of the New Kingdom of Nile, and it’s noticeably more primitive than the other four records. In stark contrast to Those Whom The Gods Detest, the songs on this record are much more compact and violent for the most part. Only three break the 5-minute mark: two of them are the monster opening and closing tracks, in typical Nile fashion, and the third (“Eat of the Dead”) is a beefy doom tune that makes for a nice mid-album change of pace. Even with these longer tracks, it’s a very tight listening experience that doesn’t feel even close to its 49-minute runtime. End to end, this is quintessential Nile and was a glorious entrance into this new epoch.
And that does it for the New Kingdom releases! Next time, we’ll be going over the Middle Kingdom releases, which seems to widely be considered their strongest work. I hope you enjoyed this; regardless, you should definitely check out Vile Nilotic Rites when it lands on November 1st. That’s all for now, and whether you’re brand new to the band or have been listening since ’94,