I remember early in 1996, the late Gene Siskel proclaimed that there wouldn’t be a better movie all year than “Fargo.” A bold thing to say with about 10 months left in the year. He was right. Now with almost eight months left in 2005, I’m not going to be so bold. However, I seriously doubt there will be a better album all year than NILE’s “Annihilation Of The Wicked.” It is that good.
Hailing from South Carolina, NILE have risen atop the pantheon of Death Metal acts since releasing 1996's “Among The Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka.” With two subsequent brilliant albums, including 2002's finest and widely considered masterpiece “In Their Darkened Shrines”, it seemed like NILE would eventually show signs of stagnation as most bands do. It doesn’t appear so, as “Annihilation Of The Wicked” is on par with all of them and as I hear it more, may be the finest to date.
Opening with the instrumental “Dusk Falls Upon The Temple Of The Serpent On The Mount Of Sunrise”, NILE again set the tone with a masterful :50 of Egyptian melancholy. One would think perhaps the Egyptian thematic music might be getting old, but with NILE it is executed so flawless and genuinely that it only enhances their savage brand of Death Metal. On “Annihilation Of The Wicked” the Egyptian ambient passages are toned down in number compared to “...Shrines”, which only gives them more weight. After this mood setter, it is straight into the ferocious “Cast Down The Heretic.” A searing foray into the breakneck technical songs NILE are accustomed to slicing the ears with. One big difference on this record is that NILE slow down quite a bit on many of the tracks, choosing instead to crush with power as opposed to speed itself. Don’t dismay, the speed is still there but again relented in the path of a wall of expertly effectuated brawn. “User-Maat-Re”, third on the altar is a prime example; another brief Middle Eastern/Egyptian intro followed by an eye-popping dirge of cracking power chords and impeccably shifting, dextrous percussion by new drummer George Kollias. The song continues its forward movements, some ascents into slow, dense head swaying vigour with those stunning nuances of breaks and back-drops with haunting solos.
Next, “The Burning Pits Of The Duat”, continues the impeccable technical and suffocating Death Metal NILE have mastered like no other. Truly it is such a technically demanding song to even the listener, that I can’t believe how the band played it but Sanders and Dallas Toler-Wade manage to pull if off with the now expected perfection, even if that caused some pain in the process (something Karl Sanders discusses in the liner notes). Throughout the ten tracks on “Annihilation...”, NILE continue to assault with astonishing might and adroit musicianship. It appears there is little this band cannot play, be it with expedition or sheer barbarity. One starts to seriously run out of adjectives for a band like NILE. Beyond “...Duat”, the album never subdues, as “Lashed To The Slave Stick” can attest; a sublime slab of speedy Death with affecting high guitar work in the background.
A special mention must be given to the ninth and title track “Annihilation Of The Wicked”. The opening minute, after blasting in at a whirling speed, stops to allow a haunting and intoxicating guitar wail, as to leave the impression of being lost in the desolation of the desert itself (I had to squeeze one cheesy desert metaphor, especially since it is true). A few bars in to this, NILE then explode with one of the most ferocious series of chords they have ever recorded. It borders on frightening how easy these guys can muster such a wave of Death, dragging you along. Never is the power relented even when the tempo slows. Throughout this scourge, the mournful cry of a lone guitar is not far away in the sound, gripping with its own lure. The track is worth the price of any CD alone! Sanders has explained that he was reticent to record anymore “epic” songs like “In Their Darkened Shrines” as they have done in the past. However, with 3 songs clocking in over eight minutes, he and the band seem to be unable to flesh out such amazing material without inevitably leading into “Iliad” like works, but ones that never overstay their welcome. I don’t think you can overlook the fine job veteran Producer Neil Kernon has done on this album. Making the cleanest NILE record yet, without toning down any of their brutality or technical wizardry. Kernon, who has worked in the past with acts like HALL & OATS, KANSAS and even MICHAEL BOLTON, has in the last few years produced some exquisite Metal: NEVERMORE, DEICIDE, CANNIBAL CORPSE. He can now add NILE’s “Annihilation Of The Wicked” at the top of that list.
As a side note, I never read lyrics. They bore me generally and even if I attempt to read them I give up about halfway through the first song. I don’t care what bands have to say lyrically and I can do without the gore/satanic/world ravaging rants ad nauseam from the majority of bands. So, I don’t actually read NILE’s lyrics either (especially since some songs consist simply of repeating one line over and over). However, I do read Sanders’ explanation of the lyrics avidly. He goes into such elaborate and intriguing detail about the true or mythological genesis of the songs, it is a treat for someone like me who has always lapped up Egyptian history. I don’t even need the lyrics to make such explanations worthy of taking time to indulge in them. A fantastic bonus to a master work by one of Metal’s emerging legends. Who again keep their record of not having produced a bad album, or perhaps even a bad song! (Online August 22, 2005)