KARL SANDERS: STILL THE REIGNING VOICE OF PISSED OFF DEAD EGYPTIANS ON NILE’S THOSE WHOM THE GODS DETEST
Nile’s Annihilation of the Wicked was a high water mark in their discography: while surgically precise and blazingly technical, it also was remarkably substantive, full of quality riffs and textures, and, ultimately, the sound of a band growing into its own and getting to the point. But, like most high water marks, it was one Nile couldn’t approach again with Ithyphallic, their (admittedly somewhat underrated) follow-up. Despite only a one album lapse, rounding out the second decade of their career, one could have assumed that Annihilation was the band’s shot wad. And even if it was, it certainly was an impressive masterpiece. However, with Those Whom the Gods Detest, Nile’s latest album, they prove to still have a considerable amount of fight in them, still equipped with almost uncomfortably blistering speed alongside brilliantly crafted slow parts. With bands like Behemoth and Melechesh making serious plays for the history metal throne, Karl Sanders proves that Nile is still the one on it, making some of the most brutal and absurdly heavy metal even when the band’s Egyptian gimmick is put aside.
But this isn’t to say that Arab and Egyptian influence doesn’t still play a large and effective part on Those Whom the Gods Detest. While still very much present in Sanders’ modal guitar work, it also makes an appearance via instrumentation and, on almost insultingly heavy opener “Kafir!”, Middle Eastern vocals. But seemingly even more so on Gods than any other Nile release, the Egyptian themes play a bigger part in the album’s overall mood and heaviness. The anthemic quality of “4th Arra of Dagon,” the title track, and “Kem Khefa Kheshef” are all buoyed by Sanders’ throaty barking, almost chill-inducingly epic despite lyrical content that may seem portentous or flat out silly in the hands of another portly metal dude. Nile’s lyrical choices haven’t always been the strongest aspect of the band, despite being the thing most instantly associated with them. But here, Sanders weaves it in with the band’s unendingly precise assault just as masterfully as he ever has previously, if not even more effectively now than before.
The remarkable thing about the album, though, is the attention paid to slow parts. In the past, Nile has the tendency to only slow down to regain speed for another bout of blasts-n-sweeps. But here, slow part are handled menacingly (perhaps after noticing how effective the epic trod of Ithyphallic’s closer “Even the Gods Must Die” was) and are as worthwhile as when the band are firing on all cylinders. In the age of slam, Nile look to out-slow their death metal peers, and with old school, mean grooves like the one that closes out “4th Arra of Dagon,” they’re just as relevant as any scraggly five piece playing slams in lieu of breakdowns. Those Whom the Gods Detest’s biggest accomplishment is learning how to integrate slow and impossibly fast more smoothly, and makes them mightier in the process.
And Nile are still mighty on Gods, with drummer George Kollias providing both groove and a solid ground for Karl Sanders’ almost hilariously technical playing. And for a band that once simply fleshed out the Middle Eastern themes hinted at by Morbid Angel and Immolation, that’s pretty fucking impressive. Almost twenty years into this – going from promising new dudes on Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka to the elder statesmen they are now – they’re still hinting that their best work is ahead of them. And for a band that showed compositional mastery and surprisingly maturity on Annihilation of the Wicked, it’s inspiring to see them still capable of polishing up their blemishes. Those Whom the Gods Detest is yet another reason to be impressed with Nile, and even if their excellence can be drowned out by the deafening hype surrounding them, when at their best, they’re worth every gooey superlative.
(4 out of 5 horns)