Approaching its twentieth birthday, death metal leviathan Nile has completed its seventh studio album, At the Gate of Sethu. Known for his penning of epic ancient Egyptian-inspired lyrics, his death growls that could be straight from Anubis of the underworld himself, and a technical nimbleness that has people citing him as one of the best guitarists in the world, Karl Sanders is about as true metal as they come. Somewhat surprising, then, that he is an absolute sweetheart.
Introducing himself with a jingle he had to endure in order to make a connection with the other side of the world, Sanders sings the ditty, “the number you have dialled, does not exist!” he laughs, and says he’s glad he was able to make it through. When complimented on his great achievement of yet another stunning album, he is genuinely thankful and seems almost bashful.
“Obviously we just finished it so of course we’re very excited. It’s quite fascinating to me to see all the varied reactions. We feel very strongly about it, and we’re really proud of the hard work we’ve put into it.”
Since its inception, Nile has been inspired by ancient Egyptian texts and mythology. Sanders gives the reasons for naming their latest record after the tenth installment from a rare sacred text known as The Book of Gates.
“The Egyptian Underworld is divided into twelve segments, each division corresponding to one hour of night, through which Ra the Sun god must pass on his journey through darkness, night and evil, on his way to be reborn in glory as the morning sun at the coming of the day.”
“I thought it was pretty amazing,” remarks Sanders, “Forces of evil have to be conquered on a daily basis. It’s kind of a metaphor for the everyday struggles of life, and struggles of a band trying to write a new record. Each time around you’ve got new stuff to conquer; new challenges, new obstacles.”
Considering their album of 2007 was named Ithyphallic, could it be possible that this serpentine gatekeeper is another phallic reference? Sanders is taken by surprise at this suggestion, and laughs “Another phallic reference! That’s awesome! Yeah, wow…” He seems to enjoy this idea but doesn’t confirm or deny.
The third track from At the Gate of Sethu, ‘The Inevitable Degradation of the Flesh’ paints a gory picture of a person consciously rotting away. To some, the gruesome imagery evoked by the lyrics may seem gratuitous. But Sanders interprets a symbolism for the suffering of life from their catalytic sources, “I can’t take absolute total credit for those phrases and lyrics; I got them from the ancient texts. I just kind of reinterpret them and put them to death metal songs,” he says. “When I see this stuff it clicks in my mind. Maybe somebody else could look at the same texts and not get anything out of it, but to me, I look at a text like that and I see all kind of death metal possibilities.”
Wonderfully phrased track titles such as ‘Natural Liberation of Fear Through the Ritual Deception of Death’ and ‘The Fiends Who Come to Steal the Magick of the Deceased’ aren’t the only elaborate elements of Nile which make them stand apart. The accuracy and technical prowess with which Sanders plays his guitar is astounding; nothing crystallises this reputation like the execution on the latter-named track.
“I think it’s ferociously clean and heavy,” says Sanders of his choice of tone. “It’s a very clean signal chain, a very clean guitar sound. It’s kind of a bold move recording a guitar tone that clean, because it forces you to play very precise. You can hear every little detail.”
“It’s a very raw and immediate kind of sound,” continues Sanders, “Whatever your hand does it immediately translates to the ear and in that respect it’s the essence of raw and primitive. It’s not hidden behind layers of processing, it’s just really immediate and I think it has a lot of impact. While maybe not as distorted and sludgey as other guitar tones, the Nile guitar tone is very articulate.”
Nile drummer George Kollias also has a reputation for being freakishly talented. When tracking the drums at Soundlab in December last year, Sanders had admitted he had been worried over whether the complexity of the drum compositions would be too demanding for Kollias. These fears were unfounded however, as Kollias finished tracking a whole week ahead of schedule.
When asked whether he thinks this record could have been done without the super speed and accuracy of Kollias, Sanders replied “Well I wouldn’t want to, let’s put it that way. There are some fine drummers in the world; one who most immediately comes to mind is Mr Dave Haley [of Tasmanian technical death metal band Psycroptic]. But I wouldn’t want to do this record without George. We’re really fond of him; we love him as a person and he’s been a great band mate.” Sanders reiterates his respect, enthusing “What a great guy, what a great player.”
Though bassist Chris Lollis went AWOL during the writing and recording of At the Gate of Sethu, Todd Ellis was hired to replace him and Sanders is pleased with the new addition to the band. Putting rumours to rest, he clarifies that Ellis does not contribute vocals to the new record. They did, however, invite some old friends back to make guest appearances; “Former bassist/vocalist Jon Vesano – he was our bassist during the In Their Darkened Shrines period – he does a few guest appearances, most notably on the track ‘Slaves of Xul’. Also we’ve got my friend Mike Brezeale (who recorded vocals on Nile’s 2005 album Annihilation of the Wicked) doing some clean vocals on ‘The Fiends Who Come to Steal the Magick of the Deceased’ and another one of my friends Jason Hagan.”
Along with the re-emergence of past-members, loyal fans who were waiting on tenterhooks for the first online streaming of album preview and track number one ‘Enduring the Eternal Molestation of Flame’ have reacted in different ways. Some claim that Nile has regressed to its earlier years and that this album is not as refined as they have been in more recent times.
Still, the reaction of those who have had the opportunity to see ‘The Supreme Humanism of Megalomania’ says it all. This is the first song from the new album that has been played to a live audience, when Nile was on tour with the Black Dahlia Murder a couple of months ago.
“Mostly people just kind of stand there in the audience with their mouths hanging open with drool dripping down their chins,” Sanders muses. “I haven’t seen that reaction in many years. That was the reaction I saw from people back when no-one had heard of us, and no-one was quite sure what to think of us yet. I used to see that dumbfounded look back then, and I saw it again playing this new song for people and they weren’t sure what to think. They were just listening and going ‘What the fuck is this?’”
Sanders doesn’t let it get to him though.“I try not to worry about it. It is a little bit funny when all of a sudden people stop head-banging and moshing and raising their fists and all, and they just stand there with that dumb look on their face. I was just like ‘ok, alright, I guess I understand!’”
With future plans to film a music video at Mt Meteora in Greece, a possible twentieth anniversary Nile Live DVD for next year’s celebration (if the guys at Nuclear Blast “get their butts into gear,” says Sanders), and an Australian tour following their European leg with Kreator and Morbid Angel to “promote the shit out of this record”, Sanders can see the next two years of his life will fly by.
After that? “Hopefully if we’re all still alive and healthy, it might be time to write the next Nile record, who knows?” But for now, At The Gate of Sethu yet again proves that this technical death metal behemoth is still very much in its prime.
At The Gate of Sethu is out July 3rd through Nuclear Blast