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Album Review: NILE What Should not Be Unearthed

Posted by on August 3, 2015 at 3:37 pm

For anyone who cares about the vitality of death metal in 2015, fans owe a great deal of gratitude to Nile. As the sub-genre (and metal in general) reached its nadir in 1996 and 1997, it was up to bands like Nile and Hate Eternal to pull the style off life-support and make it more than just a legacy sound.

In his brilliant book, Choosing Death, Decibel editor Albert Mudrian writes:

Relapse unearthed one of the bands that helped bring death metal back from the dead. In 1997, the label signed Nile, a South Carolina-based act founded by guitarist Karl Sanders in 1993…Following a pair of self-released demos and one EP, the band’s debut LP Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka, released in April of 1998, combined Sanders fascination with Egyptian culture and lore with the ferocity of time-honored death metal.

By adding an extra layer of technicality to the riff-structures, along with the relatively unexplored world of the Pharaohs, Nile played an indispensible role in making the genre feel fresh again. And it was from albums like In Their Darkened Shrines and Annihilation of the Wicked that bands like Obscura and Origin drew inspiration to propel technical death metal into the headbanging consciousness.

But just as old-school death metal became saturated and predictable by the mid-90s, modern technical death metal has become slightly played out as well. This may come from a personal bias toward more raw, straightforward material, but you can only blast a million riffs into the ears of listeners for so long before they crave something more stripped down. As it happens, I’ve always had trouble getting through an entire Nile album in one sitting. I absolutely adore songs like “Cast Down the Heretic” and “Sarcophagus,” but after three or four more songs I need to take a break.

However, with both their technical skill and legacy in tow, Nile demands our attention whenever they leap onto their chariots into battle. Their latest ride is entitled, What Should not be Unearthed. And the title is very deliberate, as the band aims to explore the spirit or force beneath the many world myths and religions, including that of their Egyptian muse:

The story behind the title goes deeply beneath everything we have already known, and we may not be ready to face.  With the art I excavated the theories of an elder ancient civilization which could give the origin to ancient Egypt. That’s why you can find a new ingredient in the band imagery, pointing at some higher obscure intelligence, eroding and covered with time.

The band also aimed for maximum heaviness on this release, as opposed to the musicianship focused approach of the previous record. And this heaviness is very evident on crushing numbers like “Call to Destruction” and my personal favorite “Liber Stellae- Rubaeae.” Another noticeable trait on this album is the almost total reliance on mid-range growling, as opposed to the low-end depths achieved on previous records- still used here, just not as much.

Though the band intends to delve deeper from a spiritual point of view, the tools they use to get there should be very familiar to Nile devotees: dissonant palm-muted riffs, heavy use of double bass and use of non-metal sounds to paint the characteristic atmosphere of ancient Egypt.

While it took me a few listens to really delve into it, What Should Not be Unearthed is a very good, very enjoyable Nile album. And though I might not share the same level of fascination with the pyramids, scarabs and Amon-Ra, I can only honor the band for painting a world for death metal that challenges the listener to look beyond the genre’s usual environment.

7.5/10

Favorite songs: “Call to Destruction,” “Liber Stellae- Rubaeae,” “Evil to Cast Out Evil,” and “Rape of the Black Earth”

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