Breathing life into the decaying viscera of history is one of heavy metal’s most sacred tasks. A genre thoroughly at home on ancient Nordic battlefields, any metallurgist worth their salt can rattle off a handful of bloodthirsty Viking junkies. It’s not hard to see how this came about; you take a bunch of maladjusted Scandinavian youths, raise them on a diet of Iron Maiden and Venom, put instruments in their hands and tell them they have to make music that sounds intimidating and warlike. Before you know it they’re singing the praises of the All-Father and picturing themselves smashing skulls on some frigid wasteland. What red-blooded metal fan can help but eat that up? I’d pluck out an eye for a front row spot at an Amon Amarth gig, so you know I’m serious.
Nile are obviously different from other death metal bands. They don’t give a shit about Thor (weird), and they don’t seem terribly interested in smashing skulls either (weirder). In fact, Nile are practically scholarly in their take on death metal, obsessed as they are with magic spells, ancient religions and the work of H.P. Lovecraft (Lovecraft is notoriously bookish. 90% of his protagonists wouldn’t last 10 seconds against a well thrown axe). It makes Nile an interesting band to listen to, removed as they are from many, more typical death metal acts.
With “At the Gate of Sethu”, Nile‘s 7th studio album, they continue to mine their love of Egyptian history and fuse it with expertly played tech-death. The album is neither a huge disappointment, nor a huge leap forward in their sound. Karl Sanders‘ guitar is lightning-fast and the band’s riffs are powerfully heavy. George Kollias blasts his way through most of the album, though I found that the production of “At the Gate of Sethu” caused his drums to come away sounding a little high-pitched. Sanders‘ lyrics are spot-on, as always and spin many an Eastern-flavoured tale of consorting with demons, forbidden knowledge and blood-soaked rituals. Dedicated Nile fans know what to expect from the band, and they don’t disappoint. My favorite songs on the album are tracks like ‘When My Wrath is Done’ and the cumbersomely named ‘The Gods Who Light Up the Sky at the Gates of Sethu’. These tracks incorporate the band’s Egyptian flavor more completely and I find that Nile are best when they push the Middle Eastern sound on the listener more and more.
I think most discerning heavy metal fans know that we don’t come to Viking metal (or Egyptian metal, or my long-hoped-for-but-never-seen Roman metal) to push boundaries. A band that embraces a long-dead culture is always going to have to return to the same themes and sounds to create a song. Nile are no different, they just happen to do it better than most death metal bands. “At the Gate of Sethu” is a perfectly fine entry into their discography, but don’t expect any surprises here. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Nile‘s sound is like the Pyramids; a little weathered, but I’d lose my shit if someone tried to renovate them.