Nile. The name brings out the fanboys and haters like no other. I personally sit somewhere in the middle, as while I enjoy each album, I feel Nile’s Egyptian themed death metal has played out after five albums and the band is merely treading water. That being said, Nile treading water is still better than 80% of the other bands out there.
Even with a switch from Relapse to Nuclear Blast, Ithyphallic comes as essentially the same album as Annihilation of the Wicked--the last album where the Middle Eastern shtick started to wear off after three truly groundbreaking albums. So then basically, if you really enjoy the Egyptian hues melded with churning, technical and often stunning death metal voracity, you again will like Nile’s latest offering.
However, I find myself being a little more objective and jaded. Granted the musicianship of Mr. Sanders and co is phenomenal, especially the drumming of George Kollias (ex-Nightfall) who on his second tour with Nile elevated his status to one of the drumming elite. And on the whole, Ithyphallic is a superb album full of sandstorm riffs and lumbering Middle Eastern grooves and moods, but as with Annihilation of the Wicked, simply lacks staying power or that one truly epic album-defining track (i.e. “To Dream of Ur”, “Unas, Slayer of the Gods”). Granted, the standout second song, “As He Creates, So He Destroys,” and the title track are as good as Nile gets, with their mix of stirring Egyptian horns, buzzsaw riffs and heaving mid section, but it’s a formula that seems to have worn thin, and one the band simply relies on too much, and can’t seem to sustain for long any more. For example, the lumbering, fretless “Eat of The Dead”, while a huge monolithic track, reeked a bit much of all of Nile’s other slower tracks (i.e “Stones of Sorrow” and such) and the track that should be this album’s “Unas”, the 10-minute “Even the Gods Must Die” fizzles out and fades rather than peak the album with a curse spewing exclamation point. And that sort of goes for the album’s second half--Past “Eat of the Dead”, I’ve had my fill of tempestuous, staccato blasting dual growls and Egyptian atmospherics. Still, that doesn’t make tracks like “Laying Fire Upon Apep” or “The Essential Salts” any less impressive, just a bit overly familiar at this point in the band’s discography.
High dollar producer Neil Kernon again tries his hand at death metal and again tries to capture Nile’s sound and again we have yet another overly clean mix and tone different from the last album. This time the almost programmed sounding drums and vocals are more up front and the guitars lack the density of prior albums. Can we get some consistency, guys?
The long and the short of it is this: this is a Nile album. Don’t expect anything other than yet another solid Egyptian themed death metal album that is far above average for the genre, but a little more than Nile simply being Nile. So, if you enjoys Nile’s musical status quo, as many do (myself included), you will enjoy Ithyphallic. However, if you are a Nile hater, keep on hating as the band appears to still be intent on giving a big ol’ Ithyphallic fuck you on their way to many year end lists as usual.
As one of the more popular death metal bands to have emerged from the underground this past decade, just about everyone reading this knows what’s up with Nile. This year has been inundated with some pretty solid death metal of all different types, yet these guys manage to stand apart and stand tall by doing what they do best--a fiery melding of traditional Egyptian influences with technically crippling death metal. I’ve never completely bought into the hype of Nile’s otherworldly abilities, but many doubts have been erased with Ithyphallic as to how fresh this band could remain from album to album while applying the same basic, albeit unique aesthetic.
Relatively compact and dense compared to previous work, and even more abrupt and direct than Annihilation Of The Wicked, there is still a great deal of complex technical prowess displayed on rampaging tunes such as “Papyrus…”, “As He Creates, So He Destroys”, "Laying Fire Upon Apep”, and “The Language Of The Shadows”, all of which are hyper enough to cramp hands just listening to them. Even among the cacophony there’s no great struggle to keep up with the music due to the smoothness of the arrangements, and Ithyphallic is laid out differently than any other previous Nile album. The three longest and slowest songs bring forth a doomlike beginning, middle and end to the disc, with “Even The Gods Must Die” being the most lengthy and somewhat dragging of the three, but “Eat Of The Dead” features torturously mindbending notes and a sort of desperate drunkenness that feels like slow poisoning. Tucked in among these three monster tunes is nothing but wrist-breaking death metal played with the expert precision we’ve all come to expect from Sanders, Toler-Wade, and Kollias.
I consider Neil Kernon’s return as producer to be a good choice, for the sound comes across as rich and natural (but not nearly as earthy as the killer new Behemoth), and with just enough polish applied to sharpen everything to a razor’s edge level of clarity without sacrificing overall depth. Karl and Dallas are just as lightning fast, complicated, and precise as ever (those leads!!!!), and George Kollias sounds totally confident and commanding behind the drum kit, to the point where he feels like the true missing piece that has been found and establishes Nile as the premier death metal entity on the planet at this moment. It’s very cool the way they've made this an easy album to absorb without toning down all the special things that set them apart in the first place, and doing so with no softening of their attack.
There’s not much left to say, and Ithyphallic simply knocked the hell out of me and has placed this act permanently on my Bands Not To Fuck With list. Still not a huge fan in the end, but the level of songwriting expertise and technical mastery that Nile shows on this album is undeniable. Great song cohesion, excellent sound, ruling cover art, and no compromises. I feel sorry for those unsuspecting Ozzfest kids.
At The Gate Of Sethu
Worship The Animal - 1994: The Lost Recordings
Those Whom The Gods Detest
Annihilation of the Wicked
In Their Darkened Shrines