Originally written by Ian Duncan-Brown.
Annihilation of the Wicked is a very good album. Although the initial euphoria of this release has worn off for me, I can still tell that there is excellent material here. Nile were one of the first death metal bands I got into, and for awhile I thought that they were the only death metal worth listening to. Of course, I soon put aside this foolish idea and began delving deeper into the style. I think the next death metal band I heard which really clicked with me was Dying Fetus, and from that point onwards I began to favor the genre. At the present time, it is my favorite of all the metal categories. Anyhow, I soon forgot about Nile, and I hadn’t really listened to them at all since their last opus, In Their Darkened Shrines, was released. I really loved that album, and wondered whether the band would be able to top it. After reading a studio report from Karl Sanders regarding the new album, I decided to revisit Shrines to see whether it still had the same effect. I found it somewhat dull, but whether this was a result of overlistening or of changing tastes I am not sure. Well, Nile have returned with Annihilation of the Wicked, and I can tell that their intention was to combine the epic feel of Shrines with the blunt brutality of their earlier Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka record. That sounds amazing in theory, but is flawed in actuality.
One will notice the drastic difference in playing time between Shrines and Catacombs. It is impossible for most bands to write a one hour album of straight blast, and also impossible for most listeners to stomach such a release. On Annihilation of the Wicked, there are three songs which exceed eight minutes in length, and the approach sometimes becomes tiresome. There are a few tracks which are simply exercises in boredom, or that lose steam and begin to meander in a dull manner. It’s as though Karl Sanders wrote some amazing riffs, and then just threw in the death metal equivalent of fluff between these good parts. Furthermore, I swear I’ve heard some of these riffs before. Maybe that’s because of Karl’s reliance on Egyptian-style melodic themes, but I’m pretty sure that the descending chromatic run on “The Burning Pits of the Duat” is almost identical to the opening part from “Destruction of the Temple of the Enemies of Ra” from their previous release. That new song is also quite similar to “Wind of Horus,” another oldie which I believe was written by Dallas. And yes, it is difficult to avoid cracking jokes about these song titles, especially the mammoth “Chapter of Obeisance Before Giving Breath to the Inert One in the Presence of the Crescent Shaped Horns.” I must voice a final complaint on another topic: the solos. I used to think of Nile as a band that consistently produced amazing solos, but I don’t know whether this was youthful ignorance, or if Sanders’ skills have taken a severe turn for the worse. Annihilation is riddled with wanky, unmelodic leads which add absolutely nothing to the record. Sure, there are good parts, but way too many bad ones. I know that Karl Sanders can write, and he has written some mindblowing solos, but many of these ones fall short.
Are you beginning to wonder why there’s such a good score at the top of the page? True, I have been very harsh on certain aspects of this album. That’s because Nile have consistently been referred to by the music press as the best band in death metal, and if this is indeed the case, they should be held to high standards. However, there’s a simple explanation for why this got a much better than average mark in songwriting: the riffs for every boring, repetitive musical phrase, there’s something truly tremendous and amazing. When an absolutely massive line hits, like at about 1:32 into “Sacrifice Unto Sebek,” which for some reason sounds like a more modern version of the world champion “Ride the Lightening” intro part, it’s impossible to dismiss this release. Some other moments which made me gasp were the crushing chantlike choruses, such as the thrilling one on the track “Cast Down the Heretic.” Listen to the first riff after the melodic bit on “User-Maat-Re” if you want to get a sense of another of these fantastic parts, or listen at 0:50 seconds into the title track, which is cool to begin with, but soon goes into a stellar Mastodon-style harmonic-laden assault. You may remember my criticism of the solos, but the one on “Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten” is proof that they still have it. I’ve actually been told that the good solos are the ones which Dallas plays live, so maybe he’s the one composing stuff like this. Of course, be aware that I’m not just listing the few good parts; this release is riddled with these spectacular sections, but I’ll allow you to discover the rest. “Lashed to the Slave Stick” might give you some sense of this record, and it’s a really good song as well, though less complex and more accessible than the other cuts. According to Neil Kernon, the fellow who produced this, that particular song was intended to be a “single” and is not completely representative of the full album. He’s right.
On that note, lets talk about the production. It’s amazing. Kernon is known to be something of a wunderkind, and this is some of his best work. Especially noticeable are the drums, which hit like a brick to the face. Everything is fantastically clear, and nobody’s going to be complaining about muddy Nile production. That’s a criticism that Black Seeds frequently draws, and Shrines as well, though I don’t hear any problems with the latter. Anyhow, this is top notch work. I’d say that Neil Kernon and Nile have gotten about as close to perfect production as is possible.
You’ll also notice the perfect score in musicianship. I’d say that this is a no-brainer, as Dallas and Karl are known to be some of the best guitarists out there. Most axemen will never reach this level of technicality and tightness, even if they do not like what is being performed. And although I have maligned the solos, they are also very complex. George Kollias is Nile’s new drummer, and he’s one of the best I’ve heard in the scene. I have no idea how he does it. Of course, Nile have a bad reputation for burning through drummers. Here’s hoping this newbie lasts. Also, if you really hated the low vocals from before, be aware that Dallas is now handling most of the vocals, and they are now somewhat clearer, though still low.
The big question is whether or not you, the fan, should pick up this release. If you liked Shrines and the rest of the band’s output, the answer is yes. If you’re interested in hearing what all the buzz is about, this record is as good a place as any to start. In the event that you haven’t liked them since Catacombs, or never at all, there is nothing here which will win you over. You might have a listen to give them a second chance, but don’t expect an epiphany. I still haven’t decided whether this is a step down from In Their Darkened Shrines, because I personally no longer like that album as much as I used to, and have a hard time comparing the two releases. I suppose all I can say is that this is quality music with epic musicianship and production, but not the strongest songwriting. I recommend this, but keep my caveats in mind.