A Devil’s Dozen – Nile

I, too, am a man who dreams.

At this stage of my life my dreams are not anymore ideas waiting to be unfulfilled. That’s because I’ve finally become the man I imagine I am. It’s not necessarily the man I imagined I would be, but it’s still a man who finds purpose from something else than dreams. Sure, I have things waiting in the future, something that motivates me to stay on the course I’ve chosen, like buying a bigger apartment or sitting on the can for 10 minutes without anybody interrupting, but they are not dreams. They are just stuff that I’m going to do.

But I do dream. I dream the stupid dreams that are bestowed upon me during sleep. In one of these stupid dreams a stranger approached me, asking if he could know my favorite death metal band. The tone of his voice was somehow hostile, so I decided to play it safe. I replied with something like: “Er…early Death, Autopsy…you know.” Seemingly happy, the person removed himself from the situation, walking slowly backwards and staring at me with a terrifying shit-eating grin. I was petrified.

In that dream, like so many times when I’ve been fully awake, I lied. Had I been the man I imagined I would be, a man who doesn’t escape from an uncomfortable situation by saying what the other person wants to hear, I would’ve called him back and said: “No, actually my favorite death metal band is Nile.”

Then he would’ve punched my face in while shouting: “NILE!?!?! HAVEN’T YOU FUCKING HEARD MORBID ANGEL AND THEIR GODLY RIFFS, YOU FUCKING POSER!?”

But that wouldn’t have stopped the man I imagined I would be. He would’ve collected his teeth from the ground and placed them carefully back into the bloody mess that used to be his mouth so that he could deliver the following words:

“Listen, buddy. Nile’s riffs are a fucking maze that you cannot solve by just keeping to the left wall. Nile’s riffs are the unholy inferno that will set your worthless altar of riff aflame. Nile is a band that rises above the riff. When I listen to Nile, I don’t listen to riffs or songs. In fact, when I listen to Nile, sometimes I’m not sure if it’s even music that I hear. What I hear is the sound of an ancient superorganism stretching its decayed limbs after being dead for millennia. I hear the histories of the dead. I can taste the salt from their wounds on my tongue. I close my eyes, but I see. I dream. And not these stupid dreams where a stranger assaults me for not surrendering to old school nostalgia. They are dreams where I too believe in miracles and work my spells well to achieve them. And when I’m done dreaming, I’m back being the man I imagine I am, but I know that I’ve just witnessed the working of music’s magic.”

My adversary would respond: “Fair enough. So, which songs should I check out as an introduction to Nile?”

I would naturally tell him to take the first six full-lengths, which are all perfect even with their flaws, and start working his way forward chronologically from Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka, but then I would also add: “If that sounds like a too big of an investment in terms of time and money, I would also recommend checking out this piece that my buddies over at your fucking last rites dot com are trying to put together. In the article they dissect 13 songs which they collectively think are the best representations of Nile’s incredible talent as musicians. They also probably talk about those goddamn riffs and, come to think of it, that’s perfectly OK, because Nile can play the shit out of their guitars, basses, drums and whatever gadgets they use to create the rest of the sounds that get me this worked up. I don’t think such an article – to which, ironically, I was just trying to write an intro, a task which you so kindly cut short – is necessarily the best approach to Nile, but our worship of the gods is always lacking.”

“Cool, maybe I’ll check it out, if you losers ever get it published, which is something I strongly doubt especially with this piece of shit preface, where you don’t even bother to say anything substantial about the actual music. Maybe I’ll see you again in the Blut aus Nord Devil’s Dozen intro,” this pathetic excuse of a character in an equally tired story would answer before vanishing back into the cosmic shit-trap of thoughts he came from, leaving me finally alone to be able to present you what the fantastic humans here at Last Rites think are the 13 best compositions from one of my all-time favorite bands.

Please let us know why you disagree with us. And as always, thank you for reading!”

[JUHO MIKKONEN]

THE BLESSED DEAD

[In Their Darkened Shrines, 2002]

Some Nile albums open with a prayer. An offering to the Gods. A way to draw the listener into their ancient world of violence, sex and ritual. And, others, well, others open with an absolute ripper of a classic track. In Their Darkened Shrines is in the camp of the latter. Lyrically, “The Blessed Dead” is one of Nile’s deeper tracks. Talking about the plight of a ruined afterlife, the song focuses on those who do not get the sacred burial rites; those who will not be moving on to the Egyptian underworld, those who will not recite the 42 negative confessions and will not lay eternally with a pure heart. Rather, these will lay in the sand, paupers who decay to feed the beetles and serpents of the desert. In what is an album rife with subtle groove, “The Blessed Dead” sets the foundation by adding a touch of groove to the ends of Nile’s typically chaotic riffs. The guitar solo abandons the usually frantic vibe and rather uses affectations to create an ambiance of desert burial, flames lapping at the lacquer of Karl and Dallas’ axe. Similarly, the vocal productions includes just enough doubling, reverb and echo to mimic the ambiance of the guitar solo which, when mixed with the backing choir vocals, make for a wholly immersive Nile experience. This one, of course, immersing you in a cheap, linen death shroud and then dumping you upon a heathen pyre for the burning of your body and the scattering of the ashes by the desert wind. [MANNY-O-WAR]

BARRA EDINAZZU

[Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka, 1998]

ANCIENT SPIRITS OF EVIL
TRANSFORM THIS DECAYED FORM
TO MUMM-RA, THE EVER-LIVINNNGGG

People who love Nile generally love them for one specific reason: their unique ability to bridge Cthulhu mythos, Sumerian religion and all manner of other Egyptian nerdery with a brand of brutal death metal powerful enough to pound civilizations into empty dust. They’ve been doing this for decades, and they’ve never done it quite as swiftly or crushingly as they did on their smashing debut, Amongst The Catacombs Of The Nephren-Ka. It is here where the Cthulhu mythos is strongest, and it is here where the overall Nile frame of mind feels the most fevered. “Barra Edinazzu” is one of the most blunt songs on the record, but the amount of joyous havoc within those two minutes and forty-seven seconds makes it feel as if it could bring an empire to its knees inside that brief window. The song bolts from the gate ferociously, and then an absurdly guttural growl around the 50-second mark ushers in the record’s most skankable moment about ten seconds later. The midpoint is anchored to an unhinged lead and bits of atmospheric keys, and then right as you’re duped into thinking all the slashes and slams are done, a massive drum & riff finishing move during the last fifteen seconds connects a final mummified boot right to the chicklets. It’s the sort of inspired workout music you’d expect a chap like Mumm-Rah to crank just after mutating and before he delivers a devastating elbow crush to Lion-O’s lame lion head. “Zi Anna Kanpa!! Zi Kia Kanpa!!” [CAPTAIN]

CAST DOWN THE HERETIC

[Annihilation of the Wicked, 2005]

In a few ways, “Cast Down the Heretic” is a close cousin to Nile’s iconic “Black Seeds of Vengeance” (more on that in a bit). Both are brain-numbing displays of riff prowess and labyrinthine song paths; both follow an atmosphere-building intro to kick off one of Nile’s best albums; and both culminate in The Huge Song Title Vocal Moment. But in a lot of other ways, their differences mirror the differences between the albums. “Cast Down the Heretic” is absolutely OF Annihilation of the Wicked. It explodes into existence with riffs that whir like all of the world’s bees, breaks backs with some of the band’s heaviest material to date, and finds about 1,000 other riffs (and riff styles) that stretch, build, lift, and WAIL. The latter is key, as Karl really uses this song (and album) as a chance to employ his fretless leads to full effect. The fretless guitar is part of an extended soloing barrage that goes on well past what would be the expiration date for lesser bands, but with Nile it all finds a way to bring the song forward. It’s all another cut, another stab, another bludgeon, another way to inflict and expose desperation. By the time The Huge Song Title Vocal Moment does arrive, all is laid waste. A perfect, exhausting, and perfectly exhausting death metal song that is damn near impossible to imagine being pulled off by any other band. [ZACH DUVALL]

IN THE NAME OF AMUN

[What Should Not Be Unearthed, 2015]

After the unmitigated flop of At the Gate of Sethu, Nile’s eighth album What Should Not Be Unearthed has basically no business whatsoever being as absolutely, absurdly, astonishing monstrous as it is. Although the album is stacked with greatness, one of the clear highlights is the gleefully destructive “In the Name of Amun.” Though it deserves to be parsed and praised from all angles, let us pause for just a moment to appreciate the insane elasticity of the primary riffing that makes up the main theme of the song. After nearly a minute of integrated folk interlude, the guitars swoon in, layered atop each other and swaying with the oddly contradictory lilt and churn of a drunken ballerina imitating a drill sergeant. The solo section that lasts nearly a full minute in the middle of the song is a work of breathtaking technicality yet it remains engaging, melodic, and tightly tethered to the whip-crack tautness of the underlying rhythmic structure. The song returns to its opening salvo (“In the NAAAAME of the God AAAAAAMUUUUUUUN”) with the unswerving force of the Nile overtaking the Aswan Dam, and the goddamned thing ain’t even finished yet. Songs like this, littered throughout Nile’s discography, stand up to close compositional scrutiny while also cackling maniacally at any scarab-sucking dweeb foolish enough to try and follow the lines on the staff paper while a couple of dudes in a death metal band channel the testimony of the ancients. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]

THE HOWLING OF THE JINN

[Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka, 1998]

One of the most fun ways to introduce Nile is as follows: “Have you heard Nile? They’re a sick ass, Egyptian technical / brutal death metal band from Greenville, South Carolina.” That description alone doesn’t even begin to encapsulate the awesomeness of Nile, but it sure as hell’s a good start. Now, what’s argued almost monthly among Last Rites staffers is just which Nile album reigns supreme? We all agree that it’s one of the first four, but that’s about it. “The Howling of the Jinn” helps the debut’s case tremendously due to just how dumb and fun the song is. Sure, when the nasty half-hour of Nephren-Ka was first released, we all thought it was some sort of ritual that would darken the skies eternally as some type of plague rained down upon us, but we eventually came to realize it’s just a dumb… and fun record. “Howling” has it all, from the strangely erotic female vocal effects to bombastic orchestral instrumentation. BIG. DUMB. FUN. With nearly enough technical proficiency to steal Suffocation’s crown. “The Howling of the Jinn” may not be the debut’s capstone, but it sure as hell is a great representation of short-form, multi-faceted songwriting that never gets old BECAUSE IT’S ALREADY FUCKING ANCIENT. [KONRAD KANTOR]

VON UNAUSSPRECHLICHEN KULTEN

[Annihilation of the Wicked, 2005]

Even early in their career, Nile demonstrated their mastery of epic-length songs which frequently wound up as highlights of their respective albums. On Annihilation of the Wicked, they had the titanic chutzpah to close out the album with not just one, but two enormous, world-crushing songs. “Von Unaaussprechlichen Kulten” further distinguishes itself by spending the majority of its time in slow, lurching doom mode, which makes it all the more impressive that Nile’s riffs retain their unshakably sinister, serpentine character. One of the most noteworthy elements of the song, though, is also one of the most surprising and understated. Just before the one-minute mark, when the band has finished introducing the primary theme, they launch into the first verse with a group chug that lands hard and then completely evaporates. It might not seem like much, but those few moments where the entire band drops out for a beat to allow almost total silence offer the slightest chance for the listener not just to catch her breath, but to reflect on just how thoroughly Nile usually fills up the entire sonic spectrum. That momentary silence is an inversion of the often overwhelming attack of the band at full-tilt, but because it is used so sparingly throughout their career, that lacuna of sound actually becomes an even thicker weight – a desperate echo through the funereal chamber of a long-sealed pyramidal tomb that finds no answer. The rest of the song, as you might expect from the capstone of Nile’s finest album, kicks ass twelve ways to Osiris, with Dallas Toller-Wade turning in one of his most impressive (and almost possessed) vocal performances near the end of the song before the whole band reprises the opening theme as a slow, determined march into the oblivion of a thousand years of sand. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]

MASTURBATING THE WAR GOD

[Black Seeds of Vengeance, 2000]

In many ways, Black Seeds of Vengeance was about taking the claustrophobic cacophony of Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka and spreading things out a little bit. Sure, large stretches of it were still a non-stop barrage of dizzying riffage (“Multitude of Foes,” anyone?), but this is where Nile really began to show off their dynamic chops. If that is the case, “Masturbating the War God” is not only the perfect single encapsulation of what Black Seeds is about as a full album, but also the centerpiece of its total arc. It starts as saturated with sound as anything on Nephren-Ka, but jumps off these passages into moments that might be thumpy, or others that stretch out leads over nothing but double kick drums for maximum tension. This tug-of-war of fast/slow, loud/soft, brutal/deceptively tense defines the song. A blinding tech-frenzy of a solo section is swapped out for a massive lurch; an explosive riff maze gives way to The Big Egyptian Moment (complete with a nod to “Kashmir” as surprising as it was probably unintentional), which in turn gives way to An Even Bigger Egyptian Moment, choir and all. “Masturbating the War God” isn’t just smartly put together and infinitely entertaining on every level, it’s one of the earliest Full Package (ahem) Nile songs and an essential member (ahem) of its album. Just… just don’t read the lyrics. [ZACH DUVALL]

RAMSES BRINGER OF WAR

[Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka, 1998]

While many of their brutal death metal peers were content just to bash and pummel, Nile was always something deeper than that, more epic, more expansive. The longest song on their debut, “Ramses, Bringer Of War” sums up their balance of cinematic depth and crushing death perfectly, from its symphonic opening with the beating of war drums and ominous martial horns, building atop one another as Karl Sanders’ guitar enters beneath, and all of it culminating in one of those massively punishing, riff-spiraling death metal tracks that would become the band’s raison d’etre. Later Nile would get even bigger, and even more intricate, but Nephren-Ka will always hold a special place as both the band’s introduction and also a distilled, youthful version of the truly heavy metal juggernaut they’d become. Bringer of war, indeed, this Ramses, and of all the destruction that comes with it — bow before the builder of temples, the usurper of monuments, the slayer of Hittites. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]

PAPYRUS CONTAINING THE SPELL TO PRESERVE ITS POSSESSOR AGAINST ATTACKS FROM HE WHO IS IN THE WATER

[Ithyphallic, 2007]

One of the most difficult things about albums being hyped is the likelihood that the hyped album won’t be a stone-cold stunner such as Annihilation of the Wicked that’s going to receive the most anticipation, but rather the following album due to the success of its predecessor. Let’s also not forget that Nile put out four what are now considered “classic” brutal death metal albums in just a seven year span. That had to be followed up with… something, and Ithyphallic was a bit of a letdown to a lot of Nile fans. The unfortunate thing at the time was that any album would have been a letdown after the bar Nile set, and print metal magazines were saying Ithyphallic would be the death metal album of the year before their writers had even heard it. That being said, Ithyphallic has aged most gracefully in the ears of a lot of its fans, and the band has certainly proven it can do a whole lot worse than this. As for Ithyphallic‘s best song? Why, the one that was everyone’s favorite before they even heard the damn thing, of course! Who doesn’t want to hear Karl Sanders announce that the next song in their live set is goiiiinnnnngggggggggg toooo bbeeeeeeeeeee “Papyrus Containing the Spell to Preserve its Possessor against Attacks from He Who Is In the Waterrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.” Aside from the greatest name a song could possibly have, “Papyrus” contains all of the magic that the band’s early works had, with a bridge that just kicks total ass when it breaks down and guitar work that displays fingers dancing all over the fretboard in “Flight of the Bumblebee” fashion. “Papyrus” is truly a classic, even if it was released in the post-classic Nile era. [KONRAD KANTOR]

THOSE WHOM THE GODS DETEST

[Those Whom the Gods Detest, 2009]

Let’s not beat around the bush: the gods really do appear to detest us. All the available gods over the course of all available time up until this very moment and moving forward into the future for as long as humankind manages to survive. We are a detestable species, and when we’re not too busy hating on each other, we turn our grudges back toward the Divine Beings that may or may not be watching all our earthly drama unfold while raking their deific fingers through duffels of sacred popcorn larger than fifty galaxies put together. If these gods know about the existence of Nile—which they clearly do—they probably detest them with the fire of a billion burning suns, because Nile profanes the hallowed like it’s their goddamn job, and “Those Whom the Gods Detest” is the sort of song that celebrates that truth with particular savagery and panache. Just a perfectly indecent blend of the band’s emblematic “forewarning through mellowness,” accelerated brutality and venomous sluggishness, all delivered alongside one of those insanely catchy Nile choruses that carries the slippery hazard of being absentmindedly sung while digging through your wallet as you pay for that double-whipped iced mocha with 12 pumps of caramel. WE SUCK, THE GODS KNOW IT, LET’S LISTEN TO SOME DEATH METAL. [CAPTAIN]

UNAS, SLAYER OF THE GODS

[In Their Darkened Shrines, 2002]

Little is known of the life of the pharaoh Unas, last of the fifth Egyptian dynasty. He did, however, build a pyramid, and if what is written in his tomb is to be believed, Unas was quite the bad-ass. Not only did he supposedly kill and eat his mortal enemies, he slaughtered and consumed the very gods, absorbing their essence and ascending, himself, to Immortality. That’s all more than likely a crock of shit, but it makes for a Hell of a Nile song. “Unas, Slayer of the Gods” is the longest, most epic Nile song to date, in fact.

If you’re going to make a behemoth of a song, you’re going to need a behemoth of a riff, so Nile nicked one of the main riffs from Candlemass’s “The Well of Souls” and made it the main theme for “Unas.” And I’ll be a son of a bitch if it didn’t fit right in, with nary a hint of tinkering. If you’re going to steal, steal from the best, I guess.

With nearly twelve minutes to fill, Nile pulls out just about every trick in its bag: acoustic instrumentation, horns, chanting, string-scorching solos, and furious technical death metal riffing of course, but also great rough-hews slabs of doom death. The highlight of this most excellent track though is the haunting, hair-raising recitation during the track’s tenth minute, wherein the orator (presumably Karl Sanders) delivers each line with increasing intensity, until he is practically roaring the final line: “HIS EXISTENCE IS EVERLASTING.” This leads into a most massive and majestic trudge to the track’s conclusion.

In truth, Unas’s pyramid was kind of small and dumpy compared to the tombs of later pharaohs, but some four thousand-odd years after his passing, Nile built Unas a monument in death metal that even the greatest of pharaohs would envy. [JEREMY MORSE]

BLACK SEEDS OF VENGEANCE

[Black Seeds of Vengeance, 2000]

BLACK!… SEEDS!… OF VENGEANCE!

Black… Seeds… of Vengeance! You’d be hard-pressed to find a more memorable line in Nile’s lyrical history. Hard-pressed to find one you’d rather sing-along to. In typical Nile fashion, this title track is an absolute ripper from the get. Blistering rhythms and an unrelenting wall of drumming backs muted guitars producing, in effect, a melded sonic aura akin to a giant war machine hurtling across the desert towards the ancient tombs of the pharaohs; the rhythmic assault adding, at all times, to the atmosphere of their archaic themes. It’s not only the interludes, laden with diminished modular tonality, that give rise to Nile’s obviously Egyptian vibe. Tracks like “Black Seeds of Vengeance” maintain the vibe through careful composition, rhythmic assault and production that ties the whole aura into a neat package. The whole track builds and builds in an effort to display the call: “Black… Seeds… of Vengeance!” It’s at this point that the mummies are released from their sarcophagus (sarcophagi?) to mosh upon the heathen servants entombed within their shrine. The double bass strong, backing minimal guitars and triumphant, exuberant vocals, (doubled by a choir vocal that sounds suspiciously like a keyboard setting) calling upon soldiers throughout the land: “Black… Seeds… of Vengeance!” I implore you to not only press play but to join in the call! Try to resist the scourge of Amalek, you will fail. Suffer the plague and pestilence. Dismember and slaughter, hack at testicles. For Sekhmet will devour them! [MANNY-O-WAR]

ANNIHILATION OF THE WICKED

[Annihilation of the Wicked, 2005]

The title track from Nile’s 2005 skullcrusher, “Annihilation Of The Wicked” wastes no time in blasting out of the gate, shredding through … a whopping eight seconds of death metal before it drops into a doomy, slow lead riff and then builds back into a masterful midtempo beatdown, all entwined Sanders / Toler-Wade riffing and George Kollias’ flying kickdrums. More so than any other death metal band, Nile has a way with constructing riffs into tracks that are equally bone-breakingly heavy and beautifully expressive, and that dichotomy truly shines in these trudging, less-than-light-speed moments. That doom-tempo bent riff dissonance at the five-minute mark? Absolutely devastating, and then the harmonized chunky riff that brings the song back to speed? Absolutely perfect lead into the stomping riff afterwards… All pieces of the puzzle, put together to form eight-and-a-half minutes of true annihilation, be it of the wicked or of anyone and everyone standing in its path; all riffs and relentless rhythm, a slow-rolling crusher filled with brooding dread. “Annihilation Of The Wicked” is one of the highest high points on an album that’s positively overflowing with truly killer death metal, and a damned-near-perfect distillation of all the factors that make Nile both one of the heaviest and smartest bands around. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]

Final editor’s note: So… thoughts on what they’re going to be like without Dallas?

Posted by Last Rites

GENERALLY IMPRESSED WITH RIFFS

  1. Lashed to the Slave Stick holds a special place in my heart also

    Reply

  2. Sacrifice Unto Sebek, Execration Text, Kheftiu Asar Butchiu, To Dream of Ur, Beneath Eternal Oceans of Sand…
    So many more songs could be included in such a list, but I think that just highlights how great those first 4 records were. Nile hasn’t released anything that inspiring in some time, and therefore I haven’t revisited their catalog in years. I believe it is time…

    Reply

    1. Gods Detest and What Should Not Be Unearthed are both beastly.

      Reply

  3. Nile is awesome, and one of most unique sounding death metal bands ever. I loved this devil’s dozen feature; it was beautiful, clearly written with love. But alas! The album ‘At The Gates of Sethu’ an “unmitigated flop”? Cast thee down! That album is loaded with killer songs composed of those famous sinister sinuous riffs (Enduring the eternal molestation of flame, The friends who come to steal the magick of the deceased, Inevitable degradation of flesh…and like every other one).

    Reply

  4. Thanks for the timely reminder of how awesome Nile are/were! I disagree that ‘At The Gates Of Sethu’ was a flop: “The Inevitable Degradation of Flesh” is one of my all-time favorite Nile songs. Hell, their songwriting goes so deep that I can easily think of another devil’s dozen; I won’t list them all but a few choice cuts not listed here, including what I find to be the biggest omission: “Lashed To The Slave Stick”

    Reply

  5. Lashed To The Slave Stick also came to my mind. That being said while Nile is an awesome death metal band they have created a lot of filler songs and albums in their career. Morbid Angels has not.

    Nile hasn’t much changed and morphed during the career. Morbid has (sometime in bad ways I acknowledge).

    Florida has also Death and Decide and Cannibal Corpse which are just better than Nile at outputting consistently original different music.

    For Death and Morbid Angel you will be better off at listing the bad songs!

    S

    Reply

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