Nile : At the Gates of Sethu

Nile’s last record- Those Whom the Gods Detest– was, let’s be honest with ourselves, something of a benchmark album. It was the sort of record that you’d gladly hand to people who would go “Death Metal? Not for me mate” and find yourself with zealous converts, grinning like the proverbial loons at the stunning brutality within. Their latest record, the enigmatically titled At the Gates of Sethu may not quite be in that league but it’s certainly another notable, visceral blast from the South Carolina mob.

The first thing that you notice about this seventh record from Mr Karl Sanders and co is just how clean the production is. The band have dispensed with the wall of brutality that characterised their earlier work and gone for a sound that is more focussed and forensic in nature. It is a little jarring at first, and it took me several listens to get into a number of the tracks but once you hook into the layered atmospherics, you start to understand the band’s rationale for this unconventional approach. First, it enables you to get a better sense at the incisive and pointed aural violence that the band are aiming for and second, you can actually get a sense as to what they are going on about. I know- revolutionary or what?! Most welcome on At the Gates of Sethu is the absence of any musical flab or self indulgence. None of the tracks here meander or go off on any kind of progressive stroll and what we are left with are seven slabs of unremitting dynamism and power.

One of the things that has set Nile apart has been their attention to detail and the singularity of vision. Doubtless then, the clean vocals and harmonies that pervade The Fiends Who Come to Steal the Magic of the Deceased is likely to be a debating point for months and years to come amongst Nile fans, both rabid and casual. For me, it’s a sign of a band who are prepared to take risks and not deliver what you’re expecting. I’m sure it’s going to drive some absolutely mental, though. Elsewhere, we get reminders- as if we needed them- of just how good a guitar player Karl Sanders is; there’s some ferocious shredding on The Inevitable Degradation of Flesh and Natural Liberation of Fear Through the Ritual Reception of Death.

There’s all the drama and Middle Eastern/Egyptian sounds that are part of the band’s nascent charm- well, this band’s idea of what Egyptian music sounds like- but there is more insight into the technical musicality on display. At the Gates of Sethu is very much the sound of a band consolidating their position- not in the sense of treading water but in surveying their conquered lands. And, given everything that this band have achieved in heavy music, who can blame them?