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At The Gate Of Sethu

Nuclear Blast (2012)
Rating: 8/10

Death metal’s a funny old game, as somebody may have said somewhere, and especially in the 21st century it is an altogether different beast to what spewed out of the Floridian everglades in the late 80s. Whereas the majority of the veteran death metal bands are still windmilling away on stages throughout the world, the whole genre has branched out into all kinds of different deathly mutations – deathcore (ugh!), tech-death, slam-death and blast-beat fixated death that really serves little purpose. But nobody does Egyptian-themed death like Nile – in fact, it may be fair to say nobody else does Egyptian death at all.

At The Gate Of Sethu is the South Carolinians’ eighth studio full-length, and the first thing that strikes the listener is the guitar sound. Earlier albums have been brutal in their own right, but their trademark maelstrom riffs have a tendency to get lost in the mix. Not so here. The production has taken some of the heaviness out of the guitars, but this means that every note is audible. The sheer fact that a Nile album should sound crystal clear may be hard to digest, and at times the sound is reminiscent of mid-era Deicide, but after repeated listens it’s quite obvious this sonic approach is key to the album’s appeal.

As for the songs themselves, it’s pretty much typical Nile – intense, technical riffs and laser-speed leads (some of Karl Sanders’ guitar work is even more mind-boggling than usual) layered over George Kollias’ powerful drumming, with perhaps even more of the atmospheric sound effects that separate them from the rest of the field sprinkled throughout. In fact, of the 11 tracks on the standard album, two are eerie instrumentals in this style.

Quite a lot of focus has been put on songwriting this time round, some of the riffs even having catchy riffs, like ‘The Gods Who Light Up The Sky At The Gate Of Sethu’ (oh yes, the ridiculous song titles are also all present and correct) and the epic-sounding ‘Supreme Humanism Of Megalomania’, which may become a live fan favourite in the future. The initial impression of At The Gate Of Sethu may belie the content – this is an album that rewards patience and repeated listens. Cuts like ‘The Fiends Who Come To Steal The Magick Of The Deceased’ definitely make more sense after a few spins, and the album as a whole flows well with differing tempos littered throughout.

It certainly stands up well with their previous effort, 2009’s Those Whom The Gods Detest, but Nile still have a way to go to beat their own In Their Darkened Shrines (2002); not just the best Nile album to date, but also arguably the finest death metal release committed to tape. Whether they will better that album remains to be seen, but with At The Gate Of Sethu they’re certainly on the right track.

Neil Not

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