I fucking love Nile and I’m certainly not alone. For many, they represent the upper echelons of extreme metal. But with such elevation comes even loftier expectation. Particularly after a decade of lackluster output. At the Gates of Sethu was beleaguered with limp songwriting and a vapid production whereas What Should Not be Unearthed tried too hard to make amends with blunt force boredom and impenetrable brickwalling. Such turmoil usually infers necessary change and ninth album Vile Nilotic Rites features some serious lineup alterations. Most notably, the inclusion of Enthean‘s Brian Kingsland in place of longtime guitarist and co-vocalist Dallas Toler-Wade. Despite the album being predictably marketed under the auspice of the dreaded “comeback” and the added scrutiny inherent in new membership, my question remains singular and simple. Are Nile any fucking good again?
The answer is yes. In many ways Vile Nilotic Rites is business as usual. The Egyptian lyrical themes and eastern musical motifs are as prevalent as ever, but thankfully delivered with a renewed vibrancy. To address the obvious difference, Kingsland’s voice is of a slightly higher register than Toler-Wade’s, but sounds increasingly similar as the album progresses. Stylistically, Nile don’t often deviate from their established formula and Vile Nilotic Rites is no exception. Chromatic riffing and wailing solos resound, allowing the band plenty of opportunity to ply their titaniferous content. Opener and first single “Long Shadows of Dread” is about as definitively Nile as can be and that’s no bad thing.
The album’s unique voice echos in the writing process, albeit faintly. Each track has been afforded its own identity and to some degree this works. “Oxford Handbook of Savage Genocidal Warfare”1 brandishes an immediately memorable gattling gun riff, while “Seven Horns of War” opts for churning passages with the occasional savage bluster. Such melodrama strikes a fine contrast to “Snake Pit Mating Frenzy” whose reticulated rhythms could shame even Apep’s cataclysmic coils. Unfortunately, the focus on individuality also detracts from the whole. Vile Nilotic Rites feels more like an abstract collection of songs than a cohesive album. This lack of immersion also highlights the record’s bloat, particularly in the second half. “The Imperishable Stars are Sickened” is grandiose in scale and a perfect closer. Sadly, the inferior “We Are Cursed” folds the album instead. A more scrupulous approach during the editing process might have gone a long way here. As it is, the record is unjustifiably long.
Discussing individual performances seems redundant considering Nile‘s reputation. George Kollias’ drumming is predictably superhuman and Karl Sanders still oscillates between chaotic soloing and monotone growls. Kingsland’s riffing, however, has definitely influenced the rhythm section. His more typical tech death background has fostered a prevalent vein of immediacy, which furnishes certain tracks with a, not unwelcome, linear nature. That’s not to say that the band’s signature compound of epic scale brutality isn’t still present. “Revel in Their Suffering” exemplifies its title by dual-wielding bone-cracking density and whip-sharp transitions while “Where is the Wrathful Sky” embodies its creators’ cinematic stylings. Fortunately, the material doesn’t have to contend with an abominable production. Nile have reverted to the even balance that buoys their most effective records, wisely allowing their own writing to do the talking instead of leaning on any misguided pledge of intent.
Reviewing an institution like Nile can be a challenge. The immediate question is one of comparison. How does Vile Nilotic Rites measure up to former glories? In truth, it can’t quite compare to the effortless quality and depth of In Their Darkened Shrines, Annihilation of the Wicked or even Those Whom the Gods Detest. But, under its own steam, the album is a success. It places emphasis back on the songs and it never sacrifices writing in a bid for excess. However, I would hesitate to call it a return to form. Mostly because Nile‘s ability has never truly waned. What the album represents is a return to enthusiasm – a necessary catalyst for all quality metal. Vile Nilotic Rites is a good album featuring some very good songs. But more importantly it means death metal aficionados can stop considering Nile with trepidation. Praise fucking be to Ra.