Having spent the majority of their career perched atop the proverbial Death Metal totem pole one would almost be forgiven for assuming that Messrs Sanders and co. would eventually succumb to a wee bit of complacency. Fortunately this is not the case though, as NILE’s seventh full-length proper is yet another seamless exercise in earth-shifting intensity delivered with pinpoint precision. Nothing less would have sufficed, though, as their previous album (2009’s glorious “Those Whom The Gods Detest”) was arguably one of the most impressive Death Metal albums of the last decade. With this in mind, how exactly does “At The Gate Of Sethu” stack up to its string of illustrious predecessors?
Rather well, I’d say. It is still too early to tell – NILE albums generally need a period to properly gestate, if you will – but it is at the very least equal to “Those Whom The Gods Detest”. Whereas the aforementioned album was clearly the product of meticulous refinement (in terms of both song-writing as well as production values), “At The Gates...” plays out more like a sonic snapshot of sorts insofar as it features elements of all the band’s previous releases. You get the quirky tempo shifts of “Amongst The Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka”, the atmospheric embellishments of “Black Seeds Of Vengeance”, the thick guitar sound of “Annihilation Of The Wicked”, and the near psychotic intricacy of “Those Whom The Gods Detest”. All this is delivered with the band’s patented piss ‘n’ vinegar vitriol, with the multi-faceted vocal approach and a more pronounced re-incorporation of the Middle Eastern melodies that made their fist few albums so unique.
The two tracks that best demonstrate this abovementioned approach would have to be “The Fiends Who Come To Steal The Magick Of The Deceased” and “Tribunal Of The Dead”. The former sees the band using foreboding string sections to set up unholy blast-filled bedlam that features everything from that patented dual-vocal approach, moody “Egyptian” melodies, some maniacal backing screams, a slowed down chorus, and even a bit of groove (think “Lashed To The Slave Stick”). That they manage to incorporate so much in under 5 minutes without succumbing to sonic chaos is testament to their song-writing prowess. “Tribunal Of The Dead” has a deliciously groovy opening that almost recalls HIGH ON FIRE but quickly evolves into another blistering effort replete with more backing chants and some truly eerie horns near the end. Don’t listen to this one in the dark, kiddies. While these two tracks impress due to their expansive nature the band also have a few (relatively) more linear tracks lined up for your listening pleasure, and so we have the toe-tapping rhythmic monster that is “When My Wrath Is Done” which sees drummer extraordinaire George Kollias throwing in some inventive syncopated beats that should appeal to the legions of MESHUGGAH fans out there. “The Gods Who Light Up The Sky At The Gate Of Sethu” is another more groove-tinged track guaranteed to induce massive moshpits everywhere, while also putting a grin on the faces of KATAKLYSM fans. There is obviously a big emphasis on rhythm throughout the album but the band’s penchant for sonic intensity is never negated, with scorchers like “The Inevitable Degradation Of Flesh” and “Natural Liberation Of Fear Through The Ritual Deception Of Death” on hand to kick your face in with maniacal glee. The former verges on the chaotic a bit too much but the latter is a total winner that sounds like a thermonuclear-powered reinterpretation of something like “The Burning Pits Of The Duat”, in that the choppy riffs and blasts come at you from all angles like a swarm of very pissed off bees.
Highlights obviously abound, but there are a few hiccups along the road. The two instrumentals (“Slaves Of Xul” and “Ethno-musicological Cannibalisms”), though competently executed and obviously meant to imbue proceedings with a sense of cinematic drama, are ultimately a tad perfunctory in their standalone form and probably would have been more effective had they been incorporated into actual songs. The other gripe has to do with the 7 minute closing track “The Chaining Of The Iniquitous”, which just drags a bit too much for my liking, being a more Doom-ish effort that sounds like a blander version of “Unas, Slayer Of The Gods”.
Despite these occasional missteps the album is ultimately a success and a militant statement of intent that NILE are not about to rest on their laurels any time soon. “At The Gate Of Sethu” is clearly the work of a band still at the top of their game and a grand entry in what is already a banner year for the Death Metal genre. Together with recent efforts by the likes of GOROD and HOUR OF PENANCE this is one of the finest albums of its kind in recent times.
(Online June 6, 2012)