When I was young and in my teens and twenties, I was deeply passionate about my beloved metal music. I drank it in deeply and I was passionate about many different bands. As I have grown older however (I’m forty-one now), I found I have lost much of the passion I once had for metal. I still love it, but the deep passion I once had for most bands is now just a passing interest. I have other things-like my writing-that I am more passionate about these days. Indeed, there is really only one band (possibly two if you include Tool, who haven’t released an album in ten fucking years!) that I still feel deeply passionate about, and that band, as you might have guessed, is the mighty Nile.
I first heard of Nile when they released Black Seeds of Vengeance back in 2002. Back then, it was just another death metal album to me, albeit one that stood out from many others at the time. For some reason though (probably because of the long list of other bands competing for my attention at the time) Nile fell off my radar and didn’t get my attention again until they released Ithyphallic in 2007. That’s when I really started to listen to Nile and take them seriously. That is also when I discovered the astounding amount of depth there is to Nile’s music. Ithyphallic blew me away and I remember thinking at the time that no other death metal band-no other band-could come close to the amazing creations that Nile put out there.
Nile are more than just a death metal band, you see. Much like Tool, they don’t really make albums as much as they make works of art. And like any good work of art, there are enough layers to it-and hidden depths-to keep you fully engaged for a long time.
When most bands release an album, you can only really listen to it so many times, no matter how good the album is. Most music-even metal music-is pretty shallow in that bands stick to a recipe in the way they write and play their music. On the surface, many of these albums are awesome, but nearly all are lacking in any real depth, certainly not enough to keep a listener engaged over and over again.
Nile’s music can keep me engaged over and over again though, and it has done for several years now. I can easily listen to Nile’s music every day for weeks on end, even months. For music to keep me engaged for that long, it has to be something pretty fucking special. Luckily for me (and thousands of other die-hard fans) Nile are something pretty fucking special.
What Makes Nile Special?
On the surface, Nile sound like a very technically proficient death metal band. Their music is super fast, full of blast beats and the low growls that characterize death metal vocals. On repeated listens however, the genius of Nile’s music soon becomes apparent, and when it does, it is like a revelation.
Nile do not reward casual listeners to their music. Nile’s music only really rewards those who take the time to really listen to it, to those who dive down below the surface of noise to find the treasures beneath.
Nile’s Concept And Lyrics
The first thing that separates Nile from all other bands is their deep interest in Egyptology, which infuses every single song and piece of artwork. This is largely down to band founder Karl Sanders, who is practically an expert on the subject of Egyptology, and this really shows in his lyrics. All of Nile’s songs tell stories of ancient kings and fierce battles, of gods and the darker side of ancient Egyptian myth and history, even managing to use the ancient language of the time in many of their songs, which only adds to the authenticity of the lyrics and the songs themselves. Check out these sample lyrics and you will see what I mean.
“Raging like Menthu like Baal in his Hour
Lo the mighty Sekhmet is with Me
I enter in among them even as a hawk striketh
I slay I hew to pieces and cast to the ground
The royal snake upon my brow
Spits forth Fire in the face of mine enemies
And Burneth their Limbs” (Ramses Bringer Of War)
“Iskander D’hul Karnon
Possessor of the horns of Ammon
Conqueror of both the rising and setting of the sun
A the ends of the earth
Where the sun rises from the treacherous fetid sea
Iskander built the gates
With blocks of stone and iron
Poured over with molten lead
Enclosing the nations of Gog and Magog” (Iskander D’hul Karnon)
“The Dominion of Seker.
Barren Desert of Eternal Night.
Shunned by Ra.
Behind the Gate Aha-Neteru.
The Wastelands of Seker.
Eldest Lord of Impenetrable Blackness.
Death God of Memphis.
He of the Darkness and Decay of the Tomb.
He of Rosetau.
The Mouth of the Passage to the Underworld.
Closely Guarded by Terrible Serpents.
Who Careth Not for His Own Cult of Worshippers.” (Annihilation Of The Wicked)
The Genius Of Nile’s Music
Given the conceptual direction and lyrical content of Nile’s songs, it was inevitable that the music would follow suit, and fuck, does it ever. Nile are quite simply the heaviest band in the world. Seriously, I know of no other band who would get near Nile in the heaviness stakes. It’s not just the fact that they down tune their guitars to achieve that monstrous sound, it’s also down to the riffs they play. In many parts of their songs, Nile go into these sludgy guitar riffs that just rattle you to the core. It’s a combination of the guitar sound and the riffs that make this awesomely heavy sound that many bands try to get, but never really achieve. In the video below, the guys show how they get that sound:
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Nile put a lot of lead breaks into their songs that often have middle eastern influences, which obviously go perfectly with the lyrical content of the song. When the music stops and there is just one guitar playing this middle eastern inspired lead or melody, it is just jaw dropping to listen to. They also do these solos that often sound agonized, which is the only way I can describe them. Given the dark themes of the lyrics, these screechy guitar parts only add to the depth of the overall song.
Next we have the vocals. Nile do not do death metal vocals like any other band out there. Firstly we have Dallas Toler-Wade on lead vocals, who over the last two albums, has really added a sense of drama to his singing. His vocals have become cleaner, which obviously makes them more legible, which is a good thing because it means you can hear most of the brilliant lyrics. Check out this video for Enduring The Molestation Of Flame, from the album At The Gates Of Sethu, and you will see what I mean.
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Karl Sanders provides the deeper, growlier vocal parts of the songs, providing contrast to Dallas’ cleaner vocals. Sanders sounds evil when he sings, which is exactly how he wants to sound, and his vocals really help to add that sense of darkness and evilness to Nile’s songs. My wife-who hates death metal-says Nile sound like “death or something”. That’s about it. Nile are the darkest band you will ever hear, darker than all those black metal bands who try so hard to be dark and evil but only come off as sounding silly.
Underpinning the whole Nile sound is the mind boggling drumming of George Kollias. Kollias is not just one of those death metal drummers who play the same blast beats over and over. No. He puts as much thought into his drums as the rest of the band put into the music. Although blast beats still feature heavily in Nile’s music (and given the speed of it, how could they not?) there is also much more besides as far as the drums go. Again, the drums add to the Nile sound, creating rhythms and beats that add much to the sense of drama that Nile manage to create in their music. Let’s put it this way. If Danny Carey from Tool played drums in a death metal band, he would probably play the way Kollias plays in Nile. Check out this man’s skills:
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Nile’s Astounding Depth
There is so much going on in Nile’s music that you can never really know it all completely (and in these shallow times, that’s a big fucking complement!). I can still listen to a Nile record and notice something that I never noticed before, even after dozens of listens. That’s why I love Nile. There is not a single other band out there (except maybe Tool as I said, but not still not quite) that can keep my attention and keep it consistently. Nor is there another band who inspire in me such a passion for the music itself.
Nile are able to create such awesome albums because they have artistic integrity that holds everything together. Nile make the music they want to make, not what they think the record company wants them to make, or not what they think will sell well. Luckily for the rest of us, in doing so, Nile also make amazing music. I cannot help but respect that kind of integrity and commitment to the music, and to artistic vision. I find it inspiring, and one more reason to give my time and attention to a band that fully deserves it.