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In ancient Egypt, the river Nile was the sole source of vibrant fertility in a vast wasteland of shifting sands, enabling a golden age to rise up and create monuments that inspire awe millennia later. Thousands of years and several continents removed from the old gods and pharaohs, the band Nile is functioning much the same as its namesake did in ages past: bringing back vibrancy and fertility into the wasteland of the death metal world.
Since Nile's breakthrough full-length Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka, the band has been possibly the most praised and bashed band in the death metal subculture. To the uninitiated, Nile sounds pretty much how every death metal band sounds: like a really repetitive batch of noise. To dismiss the music so quickly, however, does the listener a disservice. Like, well, pretty much all death metal groups, Nile adopts the staples of the genre like blast beats, growling vocals, and heavy, down-tuned riffage to churn out the brutal style of numbing crunch their record label, Relapse, is known for producing. But unlike so many of their contemporaries, Nile dare to mix the single-minded speed of old-school death (Napalm Death, Cannibal Corpse) with the flash and melody of their metal forebears (Iron Maiden), and round it all out with the thematic imagery of Boris Karloff's The Mummy. This potent concoction has brought forth an explosion of interest in the quartet from Greenville, South Carolina, but the group is not without its critics. Many metal stalwarts feel Nile simply aren't death enough, preferring the tired formula of gore-obsessed traditionalists. But the more Nile breaks away from the traditional death metal formula, the more their work shines like the pyramid of the sun.
The band's latest, In Their Darkened Shrines, is the perfect example of why the band is turning heads both within and outside the death metal scene. Tracks like "The Blessed Dead" and "Execration Text" punish the listener in the hyper-intense style that turned death metal into a new genre fifteen years ago. Nile unquestionably has chops; the addition of new drummer Tony Laureano has given the band the power to stand fist-to-fist with any of their metal contemporaries. Guitarist Dallas Toler-Wades rips out solos that soar like the souls of long-dead kings winging their way over the river of the dead, but the never-ending blasting has been done many times before. It's when Nile steps away from death metal conventions that they really take off.
What makes Nile the most interesting band in their genre is their decidedly non-death willingness to map out grandiose concepts and then adapt the death metal sound to fit them. By far the highlight of In Their Darkened Shrines is the four-part epic of the same title which comprises the final third of the disc. Here Nile become more than simply another band aping a sound that became repetitive and dull a decade ago by using studio magic and a healthy working knowledge of the guitar to create Middle Eastern-sounding melodies anchored by double-kick fury that calls to mind the scurrying of a multitude of scarabs out from the shadows. "In Their Darkened Shrines" is positively cinematic in scope, sounding at times like the soundtrack of a lost and forgotten Ramses II bio-epic. Their Egypt-inspired melodic interludes are such a pleasant departure that you're almost sad when the brutal blastbeating starts up again, and that's why you bought the damn album.
Shaking up the death metal world's expectations is and will continue to make Nile a huge band in the scene. The band recognizes that no one outside of a small but dedicated community of music fans will ever hear of them, and they're comfortable with that. They know that even a good portion of that community will never accept them, and they're comfortable with that, too. It's that comfort that enables Nile to create to freshest death metal to float downriver in nearly a decade. In Their Darkened Shrines is their most powerful music to date, as innovative and exciting as such a rigid genre can produce. The scene may be too fractured for anything to become a death metal classic ever again, but in the world of extreme music, …Shrines may turn out to be a monument that will defy the shifting sands for many moons to come.
Nate Smith is a Contributing Writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.