Originally written by K. Scott Ross.
These days, when a band that’s been around since the early nineties puts out a new album and it’s full of sloppy playing and reused ideas topped off by bad production, it inevitably stirs up discussion that maybe that particular band has seen their day come and go and ought to consider retiring gracefully before they turn into Morbid Angel or something else horrifying. After their 2012 disappointment At the Gates of Sethu, Nile was in such a position. I think the band knew it, too. Since the release of Sethu, Karl passed the age of 50, and Dallas 40. They’ve been doing this brutal death metal game for over twenty years. Even if they never seriously considered musical retirement for themselves, they must have been aware that other people were thinking about it.
So instead of doing that, the band decided to come back with unrelenting energy and an invigorated sound. What Should Not Be Unearthed opens with the most immediate fury since Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka. “Call to Destruction” gives us a glimpse into the mind of the modern religious extremists who wish to eradicate ancient history, and it’s a chilling opener to the album. While the rest of Unearthed will deliver up the more traditional mythology lyrics we’ve come to expect from Nile, it’s the harsh eye on modern religion that shows that Nile is serious.
Whether you’re a fan of fast Nile or slow Nile, you’re going to find much to appreciate here, sometimes in the same tune. Songs like “Liber Stellae – Rubaeae” and “Rape of the Black Earth” show the band pulling out all the stops on their Drop-A riffing excursions, while “To Walk Forth From Flames Unscathed” and “What Should Not Be Unearthed” remind us how powerful that tuning can be when you just dig in and slowly slide around the lowest regions of power chords. Of particular interest is standout track “Evil To Cast Out Evil,” which is actually a mid-tempo song that, by nature of its precision spider-web riffs, actually seems overwhelmingly speedy.
One thing that Nile has toned down this time around is the reliance on orchestral ambience. “In the Name of Amun” embraces it, and Kollias uses a gong on occasion to add a dark and tomblike atmosphere to a passage, but that’s basically it. “Ushabti Reanimator” is a bit of a Saurian excursion, but it’s just a ninety-second interlude. Unearthed is very much a celebration of guitars and riffs. This purity of purpose is a big part of what makes the album so effective.
The production on Unearthed blows Sethu right out of the water. Guitars sound meaty and full, drum sound snappy and clean, Dallas sounds furious, and Karl sounds cavernous. What more can you ask from a Nile album? How about lyrics about being devoured by crocodiles, or poop? Got those too. It’s interesting that every Nile album from Annihilation of the Wicked onward has been produced by Neil Kernon, yet they all sound distinctly different. Many fans hold up Annihilation as the band’s masterwork, at least as far as raw sound is concerned, and Unearthed definitely has a similar heft to it, while not being as overwhelmingly bass-heavy. There’s none of the reedy thinness that fans disliked on Ithyphallic and Sethu, and Unearthed sounds more analogue and less refined than Those Whom the Gods Detest. From a purely tonal standpoint, this is the best the band has sounded in a decade.
With such a powerful set of records behind them, you couldn’t really hold it against Nile if they chose to call an end to their ithyphallic musical crusade. But we should be glad they haven’t. Nothing else sounds quite like Nile, and What Should Not Be Unearthed shows that they have plenty of absolutely monstrous music still to come.