Review: Nile’s At the Gate of Sethu

Nile: At the Gate of SethuNile: At the Gate of Sethu (Nuclear Blast, 7/3/12)

Nile: “The Inevitable Degradation of Flesh”


Nile guitarist and occasional vocalist Karl Sanders has been living death metal for as long as the genre has existed. From a brief but storied stint living with Morbid Angel to Nile’s breakthrough in 2000 with Black Seeds of Vengeance, Sanders has been there. It is then all the more remarkable that his songwriting and lead playing have been ratcheted up another notch for Nile’s newest full-length, At the Gate of Sethu.

Listeners have reasonable expectations of what they’re getting when they pick up a Nile album: guttural voices chanting lyrics based upon ancient Egyptian texts, a torrent of Middle Eastern modal riffing, inhuman drumming with copious cymbal accents, and interludes of melody played on traditional Egyptian instruments. Sethu will not disappoint anyone expecting these things.

But Nile’s songwriting shows a sharpened focus. Whereas songs on previous albums often have been seasoning on a large riff salad, each track on Sethu is easily discernible. This is a result of a conscious effort to tighten up the songwriting process, one that Sanders has described as a kind of introverted jam session.

Nile fans also may hear a different vocal timbre and assume it’s new bass player Todd Ellis. Instead, it’s actually Sanders, and he describes the new technique as a happy accident of the extensive demoing process.

Though many bands have a period of creative prosperity at the beginning of their careers, and then struggle to maintain the status quo afterward, Nile has shown impressive creative and technical progress on its seventh full-length album.

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