If you surf through "The Metal Observer" reviews you will find a fine review by Wes of the new NILE album, "In Their Darkened Shrines". Why write another one you ask? Simply because this is some of the best music I have heard in many years and as an ode to my top pick of 2002, my review version of: "In Their Darkened Shrines".
A year ago I had never even heard the band NILE, until a friend of mine brought me his copy of "Black Seeds Of Vengeance" to listen. I thought it was much better than I expected, the anti-brutal Death Metal person I was back then, but I was not entirely convinced… yet. A few days later I had the pleasure to witness the live brutality of NILE at X-Mas Fest 2001 in Tilburg, which turned out to be a memorable moment. That one show changed my life as a Metalhead, as it impressed me so much that only a few days later I had already purchased the complete NILE back catalogue. But it didn't end there; in 2002 I bought many brutal Death Metal albums, all because of this band called NILE, who opened the gates to Death Metal heaven. You can understand my enthusiasm when I received the news of a new NILE album. But I am always a bit tense when a high-expected album is about to arrive, you know, what if it doesn't live up to the expectations?
Well, may Ra banish me from this mortal realm to ever doubt NILE! That one joyous day in September, a package from Displeased mail order was on the table when I came back from work, and in it was… "In Their Darkened Shrines". I immediately tore off the plastic and threw in the disc to absorb the album for the first time… And to be honest, the first listen disappointed me a bit, for some reason I didn't understand it all. But right away I felt the urge to give it a second listen, and that second time, lightning struck! How could I ever doubt NILE! Starting similar to "Amongst The Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka", "In Their Darkened Shrines" blasts through the walls of its tombs with "The Blessed Dead", an extremely powerful song in which new bass player Jon Vesano shows to have no problems with being a NILE newbie. This massive guy fills the shoes of Chief Spires without a problem (Note: The booklet states him as additional vocalist, but since late 2001 he has been performing the bass and vocal duties in the band). The other new guy, legend Tony Laureano (ANGEL CORPSE), had accepted the challenging task to replace Pete Hammoura and Derek Roddy (who replaced injured Pete Hammoura on "Black Seeds Of Vengeance") as the drummer of NILE… but not only does he successfully replace them, he takes the NILE music a step further! Instead of "just" drumming the album, his style adds the Egyptian touch to the music that might have been missing from the previous albums. Masterminds Karl Sanders and Dallas Toler-Wade this time come up with the fastest and most technical guitar work featured in NILE to date, even surpassing the quality play of the previous 2 recordings. One of the best returning elements of the NILE engine to me is the use of 3 grunters, who all have distinct very grunts that make the vocal department much more interesting. And then 2 essential NILE elements, the Egyptian themes and samples, have stayed intact, and more importantly, are again totally different from all that was done before. These concepts are great when they are always new, and NILE has so far managed to always find new myths, stories and oriental instruments to fulfil the new Egyptian prophecies.
The previously mentioned opener "The Blessed Dead" thunders from the speakers right from the first notes, but the subtle keyboards in the background are a true gem to the NILE sound. Similar to what could be heard on the almighty "Black Seeds Of Vengeance" track; the keyboards that are only present during the final chorus, "We Shall Never Be The Blessed Dead" send a shiver through your spine: this is how music was intended to be!
A powerful continuation comes with "Execration Text" which, like the previous track, is fast, brutal and extremely technical. It's a fantastic track, easily as good as any of the older works, but looks kind of pale in the violence to come…
And that violence commences with "Sarcophagus". On this massive track, the speed is severely reduced, comparable to for example "To Dream Of Ur", however, the rattling double bass of Tony Laureano make this one of the heavier songs on "In Their Darkened Shrines". Who said Metal can't be slow and brutal at the same time can now sit in the corner and shut his mouth, "Execration Text" is the prime example both go perfectly together!
Then back to a furious track, "Kheftiu Asar Butchiu" (meaning "The Enemies Of Osiris Who Are To Be Burned"), which is the fastest of the album so far. The highlight of the song is near the end, when the triple grunts of NILE spit forth the text: "Kheftiu Asar Butchiu"!
Then on to one of the most extraordinary pieces of music that were ever written. It's more or less popular for Metal bands to record songs of over 10 minutes. But how can you write a 10 minute Death Metal epos without it getting boring? Aren't Death Metal songs supposed to be not longer than 5 minutes maximum? Well, prepare for "Unas Slayer Of The Gods". Clocking a spectacular 11 minutes, this is as epic as Metal can get. The introduction is a calm acoustic riff (Karl Sanders admitted this is identical to a CANDLEMASS riff off the "Nightfall" album), which then continues in the blazing Death Metal variation of that riff. This track is phenomenal until 5 minutes, when something unbelievable happens: The guitars fade away and a horn with drums leads the song forth. The horns continue, but the drum work that Tony Laureano presents here are virtually indescribable! The double bass riff he produces shows of such immense quality and dedication to the Egyptian theme that the goose bumps are inevitable! You have to hear this for yourself to believe it! But it doesn't end there yet, a part of approximately 3 minutes of fantastic solos over the main theme of the song are then followed by a fantastic acoustic passage in which the legend of Unas (the last Pharaoh of the 5th dynasty) is told by the dark whispers. Following is a monstrous final riff, in the slower variant of the NILE repertoire.
And if this wasn't enough, "Churning The Maelstrom" is another finger-licking piece of technical supremacy. Possibly the most brutal NILE track ever recorded!
And then there is "I Whisper In The Ear Of The Dead", another showcase of the dynamics of NILE. It finds itself in the brutal, dark and slower section of this album, telling the tale of Nectanabus, a pharaoh that whispered in the ear of newly dead to control their spirits to spy on his enemies.
The last song before yet another epic song is "Wind Of Horus". Being the technical climax of the album it more than justifies its position as co-closer of the album… but there is still more to come.
The greatest of all productions, the mightiest of the mighty… "In Their Darkened Shrines". A beastly 18 minutes long is this masterpiece, divided into 4 chapters. "Hall Of Saurian Entombment" is the introduction to war, with trumpets and drums calling the soldiers to arms. The only slight minus I can find on the entire album is here, in the volume of the trumpets in the first "Hall Of Saurian Entombment". They miss a fraction of power (read volume) to create the perfect intimidating atmosphere, but fortunately this is corrected a bit later in this segment. "Invocation Of Seditious Heresy" sees the highest-flying technical riffs on this album, leading to more brutality in the following "Destruction Of The Temple Of The Enemies Of Ra". This gargantuan song and fabulous record is then finished by a mesmerising epilogue called "Ruins". The destruction is now complete!
What I didn't tell you is the presence of all lyrics plus the historical explanations of the lyrics in the booklet. In case there are people that didn't know, for as far as possible every song text written by NILE is as historically correct as can be, so they're not just singing about Unas because the name sounds cool (Note: All historical facts in this review were taken from the "In Their Darkened Shrines" booklet). And the artwork on "In Their Darkened Shrines" is more than just the first appearance. The sign of Ankh with the snake around it seems all there is, but the fantastic statues that grace the wall the Ankh is placed on are full of details. No, the concept of NILE is so incredible well-though off, and so perfectly executed it's frightening! This is not only the best Death Metal album of the year 2002; this is by miles the best album of the year, and one of the best albums ever to appear in the shelves of your record stores. Embrace the brilliance of NILE! (Online December 18, 2002)