What Can Be Safely Written

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Back in 1998 Nile, a death metal band from South Carolina, released Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka on Relapse Records. One could argue, and i would be one of them that the release reinvigorated American metal (as well as Relapse), a death metal scene that was saturated in Nu metal, Pavement Records, JL America and Crash Music bands that were simply soulless speedy death metal clones. However, Catacombs, changed the game.

Not only was an album of awesome technical proficiency and speed, it had huge churning slower passages that rumblesd like blocks of stone being dragged to a Pyramid. And speaking of pyramids, Nile avoided the typical gore and Satan cliches in favor of Egyptian history and mythology. And not just a cursory mention of Pharaoh’s and such, but a deep dive into actual texts and such as founder Karl Saunders delved far into the Egyptian history to develop themes and and lyrics far above anything seen at the time.  Since then, the band has dropped 7 more albums, three of which are arguable classics like the debut,  and number 8, that Which Should Not Be Unearthed, is getting ready to drop. I caught up with Mr. Sanders to dig up some scrolls and discuss the new album and past Nile glories….

So usually for promoting albums artists give the usual ‘better, faster’ speech.  And for the new album you stated “The focus this time around is on brutally heavy metal riffing and songwriting; kind of like of an Annihilation Of The Wicked, approach but very streamlined to achieve maximum destructive impact.”. However- you actually followed through and it wasn’t rhetoric.  That’s a refreshing change! Was this a goal of yours when beginning writing for the album?

Absolutely! I hate rhetoric. Unfortunately, it’s often part of the job. Lol The goal when we started writing Unearthed was to make a heavy, memorable album with songs that were focused on effectiveness and listenability. In some ways, it’s a very “anti-technical” album in that the songs come first – and the focus is away from getting too over-tech. I think that technique often somehow ends up overshadowing composition in a lot of tech death metal and makes it less fun for the listener.

One of the divisive issues  of the last album, was the clean production that sapped some of the power. This new album really seems to be back to the really powerful sound of the first few album- was that something you really wanted Neil Kernon to bring back?

Yes, we had many talks with Neil to explain what we wanted this time around; and then reiterated ad-nauseum at every opportunity during the recording/mixing/mastering of the record so as to ensure no-one would wander astray from the prime directive.

I don’t mean to offend but with the 3 albums there has been some criticism that Nile is running in place at this point. However, after hearing the new album, it’s clear you have found that magic of the first four albums again- does this album feel any different to you- do you feel you have ‘it’ back?

We are wetbacks and we find that very offensive, :).  At this point, we are really over the whole “We got to play faster/louder/cleaner just to prove we can play faster/louder/cleaner.”  If people haven’t managed to get that point yet, they just haven’t been listening. lol  It’s a pointless pursuit, like chasing a dragon. At this point, I don’t think metal fans give a fuck about that anyway ‘because there are plenty of bands nowadays that shred like motherfuckers. We wanted to make a record that people would actually enjoy listening to – metal for the sake of metal. So we just put our energy into writing catchy and memorable songs – and technicality be damned. Having said that though, on Unearthed there is still plenty of the musicianship that people have come to expect from Nile; but this time it’s definitely harnessed for a higher purpose.

Its seems the new album also has a bit of a return to those slower, huge numbers  the likes of “To Walk Forth from Flames Unscathed” and  the title track recall the likes of “Unas” or “To Dream of Ur”.  is that something you wanted to bring back?

No, I have no wish to rehash older songs. I want to write new ones. That in itself is a blasphemy to some people – who expect that bands should just constantly recycle their music.Can you imagine “Unas Slayer of the Gods – the Sequel”?  hahahahahah. I have new ideas. It’s not out of a wish to revisit classic, epic, older Nile songs, it’s a desire to do new things.


When you look back is there one album that you really look back on with pride and think that was the perfect Nile album? or is this album it?

I don’t think Unearthed is necessarily a definitive Nile album in the sense that In Their Darkened Shrines is a definite Nile album. I think with Shrines, we had written and recorded what I felt was the pinnacle achievement of what I was hoping to achieve with the band’s music. After that, I did not want to just lather, rinse, and repeat…. There were other things I wanted to do and goals to set for ourselves. As Southpark so eloquently satirized in the episode called “Rehash”, so much  of modern culture is just constant overt rehash of everything else – but I think Nile fans deserve better. Unearthed is specifically purposed as a record for Nile fans. Catchy, memorable songs that NILE fans will enjoy and will be fun to play live.

The lyrics on the new album delve into the possibilities of the origins of  Egyptian history- how did you get on that particular theme?

It’s not necessarily Egyptian History I am referring to but the history of whole entire human race; it’s just metaphorically alluded to through the artistic narrative of Egypt/archaeology.

With such a specific lyrical theme for Nile and the 8 Nile albums, is there ever any chance of running out of Egyptian based lyrics? or have you barely scratched the surface?

I have no worries about running out of song possibilities. With thousands of years of history to be inspired by, we have just barely even scratched the surface.

Is there a part of you that wants to explore other themes, space or real world or other historical eras? In another project maybe?

Who knows. I think I would probably enjoy doing some music that had NOTHING to do with history whatsoever. lol

One of my favorite Nile songs ever is ‘Ramses, bringer of war” the way it used Holst, to this day gives me goosebumps. has there ever been any more thought of tinkering of integrating other classic themes or such into Niles songs ( the theme from 2000: A space odyssey comes to mind).?

I don’t rule out the possibility. If one day I am listening to some piece of classic music and it sparks an idea – then great . If not, then I am OK with that too.  I don’t believe in dictating from whence the metal gods choose to give inspiration.

Have  you ever heard some of the other Egyptian based bands like Coffins texts or Scarab?

Of course. K

When you started Nile and released Nephren ka in 1998, arguably jumps starting death metal did yu forsee that Nile wuld be 8 albums in and be considered one of the biggest name in nit jsut US death metal but death metal in general?

We didn’t care about that in the early days. We were making Metal because we loved Metal ; with little hope of ever achieving any success as a band.

I assume there are tour plans for the new album?

Of course – and we are especially looking forward to the fall tour in Europe with Suffocation. Metal will take place!

How much longer to you see Nile keeping going? what do you plan to do after Nile?

Who knows. Everything could end tomorrow in nuclear annihilation and world war 3 . Until that day comes, I will be quite happy to continue being metal.  K




  1. Commented by: Zach

    Karl and Nile whoops all kinds of ass!!

  2. Commented by: Juan Manuel Pinto

    Great interview. You should have prodded him further on the question about other Egyptian based bands. And asked him if they would ever cover “Powerslave”.

  3. Commented by: J Ryan Taron

    Ouch! The band I sang for at the time was on Crash and I remember appreciating Mr. Thomas words on our record in spite of it’s glowing flaws.

    However, fair enough. We were working hard and appreciative of any lable who would release us so not ashamed of who we signed with overall. I can assure you I personally tried to not be as soulless as possible and be earnest in hopes to produce something to enjoy.


    love the site.

  4. Commented by: gabaghoul

    the fact that he
    a) recognizes Shrines as the jewel in their crown… er, nemes
    b) says there is a stronger focus on listenability and songcraft on this one

    means that my expectations are even higher than ever! If this is anywhere close to an album full of tracks like Utterances of the Crawling Dead (one of their best tracks of recent years) I will be a happy acolyte

  5. Commented by: E. Thomas
  6. Commented by: J Ryan Taron

    Damn you sleuth I’m exposed!

  7. Commented by: J Ryan Taron

    Ok Nile covering “Powerslave” sounds like an awful Idea to be honest. What about Nile completely reworking a Dead Can Dance piece? Now that could be something!

  8. Commented by: Allred

    I always wanted Nile to do a cover of the theme song from the old game show, $25,000 Pyramid!!! \m/…I’ve still got the Mandrake album, btw…

  9. Commented by: Jay

    Great interview Erik! I’m a fan since Nephren-Ka and these guys bring it live. Karl is such a class act. I’ve liked the last few albums for sure but agree with some of the nitpicks about them…although there isn’t an outright stinker in their catalog. Certainly looking forward to spending time with the new one.

  10. Commented by: Jay

    Also J Ryan! I was a fan of The Mandrake especially “Burning Horizon…” Reviewed it positively for Daredevil Webzine way back in the day. Always wondered if there was anything after the first two. Great vox on that man! Still have that record myself…

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