In Their Darkened Shrines

Ah yes, Nile. The band that has recently joined the “trendy to hate club” (founded by Cradle Of Filth). Whether it’s the false pretense of the Egyptian “gimmick”, the large label affiliation, or after two good albums, fickle metal fans are ready to move onto the next band, Nile are suddenly a hotbed of criticism.

Either way, after some line-up changes, Nile faces an uphill struggle as they reach the all-important third album. While the last two albums have been widely acclaimed, Nile find themselves having to reach the standard they themselves set, while pleasing the metal press and fans. Personally, even though I loved the last two efforts, they are not albums I often find my self reaching for on a regular basis, as the chaotic speed that fills much of the material, struck me as repetitive. I preferred the slower more crushing moments, so it was it was with some trepidation as I hit play on In Their Darkened Shrines.

Let me put you out of your misery first – this album kills, and as much as I hate to be a bandwagoneer, it’s just the simple truth. Nile has released a devastating album, regardless of “gimmicks” or expectations. Despite the line-up changes, Karl Sanders is the mainman, and main songwriter so don’t expect anything too drastically different. Yes, new drummer Tony Laureano puts on an inhuman display, and new bassist/vocalist Jon Vesano (Dark Moon) is admirable, providing the rumbling backdrop to Karl’s frantic guitars, but this is still Karl’s show. The first two songs “The Blessed Dead” and “Execration Texts” explode from the speakers with their usual ridiculous speed, and are typical Nile, with dizzying pace and high-end sonic intensity. But the riffs seem a little more refined and separate, not as seemingly out of control as prior songs. Then comes one of the more pleasing aspects of Nile’s sound – the head-crushing slow song. “Sarcophagus” is the “Stones of Sorrow” of In Their Darkened Shrines. It’s a sweeping, drudging tune that is a perfect setback for endless horizon of the sweltering desert. And what impresses me not only in this song, but also throughout the album is Nile’s ability to create the ancient mystique of Egypt without the complete reliance on samples or interludes; the riffs themselves are now the main bearers of that task. As “Sarcophagus” demonstrates its depressive, merciless sluggish pace (with minimal synth work), the drawn out riffs simply draw you in to an ancient wasteland of brutal rites and sacrifice.

 If “Sarcophagus” is equivalent to “Stones of Sorrow”, then standout track “Unas, The Slayer of Gods” is “To Dream of Ur.” At over 11 minutes, this behemoth of a song is Nile’s finest hour ever. Starting out with some mood setting Arabian acoustics, the song soon reverts to epic scale with some spine-grating rhythms and blastbeats that sound like someone just hooked an amplifier into a beehive; but again the speed is a little more refined and coherent. The slower segments just ooze from the speakers with asp-like predatory mobility; seeking their prey. If that’s not enough, the mammoth war-drum/horn section at 5:26 is simply devastating, which then breaks out into a blast beat/solo of vast proportions. It’s not hard to realize that Nile are, in fact, unstoppable and are at the top of the death metal genre with good reason.

 “Churning the Maelstrom” returns to the hyper speed chaos of prior albums, and seems somewhat disappointing after previous stunner, but will surely satisfy fans thirsting for speed-driven intensity. However, the redemption is complete when “I Whisper in the Ears of the Dead” saturates your mind with its lurching gait and trance-inducing heaviness. Even the Toler-Wade penned “Winds of Horus” is a suitable addition to the Nile cataloge, even if it is possibly the least Egyptian sounding song they’ve recorded – it’s just a skullcrusher of a death metal song that many U.S. acts wish they could claim credit for. Then it’s the coup de grace. The four part concept title track shows how far Nile have evolved in three albums. These songs are probably the most sample-laden, with many a synth/horn moment. Part I: “Hall of Saurian Entombment” drips atmosphere and creates images of unwilling slaves being dragged down flame-lit hallways of subterranean stone to their sacrificial demise. The Toler-Wade songwriting shows up again on Part II: “Invocation to Seditious Heresy” again; it is just sheer death metal havoc ending with a somber drum-laden flourish that creates enough sandy ambiance to make it “feel” like Nile. Sanders takes over completely from here on with the last two parts (“Destruction of the Temple of the Enemies of Ra” and “Ruins”). He really cranks up the Egypt-O-Meter to 11 Pharaohs out of 10 with serpentine riffs and winding arabesque score-like qualities, but it’s a fittingly powerful ending, as a sun setting on a harsh civilization’s brutal reign.

 This album does not disappoint, and with Toler-Wade acting as a balance to Sanders, the album seems a lot less gimmicky and far more straightforward death metal that happens to have an underlying theme. There are none of the 5 minute chants or superfluous filler “songs” that were overkill of the Egyptian theme. Instead that’s all done within the framework of the songs this time around. Vocally, all band members share the equally indecipherable growling duties, with Vesano getting most of the work; but to be honest, he doesn’t differ that much from prior cavernous bellows put forth on Nile albums, which is a shame as Nile offers up some of the deepest non-typical death metal lyrics ever. If the Egyptian thing can be considered a “gimmick,” while every other band is content to kick out gore/Satanic lyrics, then something is horribly wrong with the scene.

Production-wise, it’s perfect, although not quite as clean or bass heavy as Black Seeds of Vengeance, yet the slower segments are monstrous at the bottom end. This album will no doubt be at the top of many year end lists. I know it will be on mine, but this time I think In Their Darkened Shrines is far more deserving of the honors it will no doubt receive, as the first two were acclaimed more for novelty value than anything else. Either way Nile’s In Their Darkened Shrines adds to an already solid year for Relapse.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Erik T
September 17th, 2002


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