A little over 20 years ago, death metal pantheons Nile first broke through, shaking the foundations of the genre with a unique mix of brutality and Egyptian influenced instrumentation. The passage of time has seen them go from strength to strength, building a formidable back catalogue typified by ambitious and expansive song-writing, mesmerising technicality and almost unrivalled heaviness. It’s been four years since What Should Not Be Unearthed, making this the longest period of time between studio albums in their career, so there’s a sense of anticipation with the arrival of Vile Nilotic Rites.
It’d be impossible to have been in Nile’s position for over two decades and not to have experienced any problems, and recent years have been some of the band’s most turbulent, with long-time guitarist/vocalist Dallas Toler-Wade stepping away from their ranks. Mainman Karl Sanders has indicated that relations had frayed between band members towards the end of Dallas’ tenure, and that the introduction of Brad Parris and Brian Kingsland had given the group a new lease of life. He’s gone as far as to state that he hadn’t felt this good about a line up since Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka way back in 1998; bold words indeed, leaving Vile Nilotic Rites with a lot to live up to.
“Long Shadows of Dread” is our first glimpse of this most recent incarnation of Nile, and it’s a sensible – if safe – choice. A cacophony of relentless riffs, busy drumwork and inhumane utterances, it indicates that, if nothing else, these line-up changes will not harm Nile’s lay waste to all that falls before them. The wonderfully titled “Oxford Handbook of Savage Genocidal Warfare” follows, leaving a trail of scorched earth with its blistering pace, doing in three minutes what would take many bands would do in six, with the title track then scaling back the speed but not the urgency. Before you know it three songs have flown by with a succinct savagery that is, strangely enough, not too unlike the Nephren-Ka days. Later album cuts share a similar identity. “Snake Pit Mating Frenzy” is as frantically charged as the title suggests, and is the most direct and to the point track on offer, whilst “Revel in Their Suffering” and “That Which Is Forbidden” are a little more fleshed out, but just as devastating in their potency.
Nile’s catalogue has long been steeped in grandiose, haunting atmospheres, and Vile Nilotic Rites is no different. “Seven Horns of War” and “The Imperishable Stars Are Sickened” clock in at approximately nine and eight minutes respectively, traversing dramatic, non-linear pathways that alternate between slow, crushing doom and merciless blitzes of speed. Both are good songs, despite not living up to the likes of “Annihilation of the Wicked” and “Even the Gods Must Die”, although the pacing of “The Imperishable…” is slightly off – a rare mishap for this album. Closer “We Are Cursed” lumbers around a little aimlessly too – a competent song that’s a level below the standard the album has already set. “Where Is the Wrathful Sky” doesn’t quite have a scope of the longest tracks, but is a more concise piece of craftsmanship, with the most congruent integration of Egyptian style acoustic patterns on the record.
As has been the case with Nile for a while now, the production is near impeccable. The guitar tone is thick and carries a significant amount of clout – just listen to the monolithic weight some of those slower passages possess – but also has a clarity that gives every single note a huge amount of power; making the faster guitar work all the more effective. Clear too is the thunderous drumming of extreme metal deity George Kollias, whose every beat strikes like a battering ram. In the past, I feel he has been guilty of throwing in excessive fills to the point of distraction, but he’s right on point here, imbuing an added guile to an already explosive set of songs. Parris and Kingsland put in respectable shifts as two of the forked tongues in the three headed serpent, but I’d be lying if the absence of Toler-Wade’s demented bark wasn’t felt. This is their first time fronting the band of course, so there’s time yet for them to leave their mark.
Vile Nilotic Rites is a great success. Whilst I would hesitate to denigrate any of the last few Nile records, there is a renewed vigour to the music that makes this their strongest effort for years. If I had to criticise it, I would say that some of the riffs and ideas feel derivative of past works, but all in all it’s a well-rounded and finely executed record. Whilst Nile may draw inspiration from the past, they’re certainly showing no signs of being consigned to it any time soon. There can be no doubt that Nile remain one of the kings of death metal.
Highlights: “Oxford Handbook of Savage Genocidal Warfare”, “That Which Is Forbidden”, “Revel in Their Suffering”