Nile – Vile Nilotic Rites Review

Whoever you are out there, I don’t know what thrills you. I don’t know what desperate yearnings fill your sleep-starved restlessnesses, or what calamitous hunger claws at the belly of your mind. However, if, out of all the neon contrivances and desolate waystations and dubious outposts of the internet, you’ve decided to point your browser at our humble URL on this fine day, I might surmise that you, too, have found joy in these disgusting sounds that we call heavy metal. And although some might argue the point, I think it’s fairly safe to say that the most disgusting sounds are generally found in death metal. But even so, ye thrill-seekers and noise-gnawers, what is it that moves you? What is it that rousts your creaking sinews to fits of bodily convulsion? What generative force tunnels to your marrow and cracks you wide open with the lifeblood of the universe? If the answer isn’t already leaping off the page to grind your knuckles bone-smooth like a sandstorm, then buddy, you’d better get yourself right with Nile.

Almost from note one of their thrilling debut more than two decades ago, Nile vaulted into such a unique position in death metal’s elite tier that it has been easy to take them for granted. Their brand of feverishly technical death metal has never once sacrificed beastly heaviness for clinical precision, and unlike the common pitfall that snares so many of their peers on both the brutal and technical sides of the fence, Nile consistently writes wickedly catchy riffs that spin out into indelible songs. Vile Nilotic Rites is album number nine, and marks the first without longtime mainstay Dallas Toler-Wade, who played on all of Nile’s albums except the first. Nile’s new bass player Brad Parris and guitar player Brian Kingsland (both of whom add vocals) have slotted seamlessly into the band’s signature sound, and both play with ferocity throughout. As such, Vile Nilotic Rites swiftly grinds to dust any naysaying concerns that the band might falter with this latest lineup turnover.

Or, to put it another way: Ssssssi Nileumentum requirisssss, circumssssssspice.

From start to finish, Vile Nilotic Rites is singularly focused on moving bodies, whether through hyperspeed fret-lashing, mid-paced swaggering, or earthquake-grade breakdowns. The pacing and sequencing of the album is remarkable, too, with the mostly frantic attack of the first two songs pulling ever so slightly back into the choppering grease-strut of the title track, which in turn leads into the jaw-droppingly epic “Seven Horns of War.” The cinematic break and spoken word recitation around the 5:30 mark of “Seven Horns of War” could have sapped its momentum, but the jackhammering, militaristically precise section that it ushers in is one of the most absurdly city-leveling passages Nile has put to record to date. The dry, breakneck tautness of the drums and rhythm guitar in lockstep almost sound like something lifted from Metallica’s AJFA and grafted with the weight of a half-dozen pyramids.

Release date: November 1, 2019. Label: Nuclear Blast Records.
Praising an album’s production as one of its strongest selling points might seem like damning with faint praise, but death metal bands like Nile that aim for that perfect midpoint of sophistication and destructiveness often live and die by their sound. No small surprise, then, that Nile’s major career misstep – the abysmal At the Gate of Sethu – earned that dubious distinction in large part due to its embarrassingly thin and flat production. Thankfully, on both prior album What Should Not Be Unearthed and now Vile Nilotic Rites, the production ship has been righted. The guitars on Vile Nilotic Rites have a beautifully tactile sheen and George Kollias’s superhuman drumming has a perfectly separated crispness that nevertheless hits with a gut-level weight. The critical thing to point out here, though, is just how incredibly smooth everything is. Maybe we’re so inured to professional-grade death metal in 2019 that we fail to register it, but just pause for a moment to consider the inordinate technical skill and recording finesse required to not only compose and play music at this level of complexity, but also to capture those sounds in a way that retains their clarity without blunting their stark physical impact.

For this particular writer, that’s the unique contribution of Nile to the world of death metal: a nearly unparalleled ability to make frantic, unremittingly heavy music that comes across as smooth, seamless, and just plain classy as balls. “That Which is Forbidden” opens with an ominous harmonized lead and a slowly rumbling churn that eventually gooses itself into a swiftly torquing chug. Just after the 4:00-minute mark, that opening lead harmony returns atop a blasting double-time, and then trades off briefly with a nearly Meshuggah-style math chug. The album hits a blistering peak with the righteously destructive “Snake Pit Mating Frenzy,” which blasts and twists and grinds and leers. It is one of the hungriest Nile songs in recent memory, and if there’s any justice in this ridiculous world, should become a live staple with its deliciously drawn-out midsong line, “Consumed by the will to copulate.”

Does Vile Nilotic Rites represent a bold new era for Nile? Does the loss of Toler-Wade leave an irremediable stain? Does goddamned Godot ever actually show up? Well, no, not really. In truth, there’s not much that’s particularly new to this Nile outing, and that is a wonderful thing to report. Nile’s core stylistic development can probably be said to have been completed by around the time of either their third or fourth album. Far from simply coasting or retreading since then, however, the band has continued to explore various shadings and aspects of its idiosyncratic style. If there’s any one thing that’s somewhat notably more pronounced on Vile Nilotic Rites compared to the rest of the band’s catalog, it’s that they lean a bit more heavily than usual on the breakdown. The last minute or so of “Oxford Handbook of Savage Genocidal Warfare,” the 1:30 mark in “Revel in Their Suffering,” the 3:00 mark in “That Which is Forbidden”… none of the songs depend entirely on the breakdown, but each features head-snappingly huge moments of physical forcefulness that would make even Suffocation, those brutallest of all brute-fathers, proud.

The album’s closing trio of songs feel a bit similar on first encounter, but as the album sinks in, the entire back half opens up as an extended foray into deeper, more elemental forces. “Where is the Wrathful Sky” relents briefly for a Sepultura-styled percussive break, while “The Imperishable Stars are Sickened” opens as a cripplingly heavy lurch before branching off into a flutter of brief symphonic keys, a massive midsong breakdown, and a woozy, clean-vocal chorus. These last three songs tone down some of the flashier moves of the album’s early standouts in favor of just getting deep and downright nasty. Album closer “We Are Cursed” hints at some of the same moves that made the previous album’s closer “To Walk Forth from Flames Unscathed” so powerful, but leans even harder back on its trudging death march feel. For much of the song, the band settles into an imperious pummeling, forgoing much of their typical technicality in favor of just battering the listener over and over and over again as they peal out a familiar theme: “Our monuments have fallen to ruin.”

For as much as Karl Sanders’s preoccupation with ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures presents Nile’s music as an effort to make that very specific version of the past live again – an effort which manifests in detailed lyrics drawn from ancient texts, explanations from archaeological scholarship, and historicomusicological instrumentation – the band’s musical and thematic focus has also underscored the forces that turn living cultures into distant memory, then into history, then into myth, then finally into dust. Disease, famine, conquest, imperial overreach, internal conflict, the unrelenting erosion of water and wind and sand, and the even less forgiving procession of time’s grim scouring: Nile’s music gives voice to these forces. “We Are Cursed” thus ends the album with a fatalistic realism that resonates long past the final dissipation of its closing notes.

For this and about a million other reasons, there’s no time like now to get yourself right with Nile and be moved.

Posted by Dan Obstkrieg

Happily committed to the foolish pursuit of words about sounds. Not actually a dinosaur.

  1. Marvelous review, Dan. What a joy to read. What a marvelous album too. It’s so great to see so many old dogs still mustering the enthusiasm and creative determination to deliver powerful works 20+ years down the line.

    Reply

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