Nuclear Blast (2012)
Nile has always been a so-called one trick pony. They appeal to specific audience: either you get them or you don't. Next to Immolation, Nile is also my favorite death metal band and one of my favorite bands overall, so for better or for worse, this is a fanboy review. I own all of their CDs and I love them all. To me, they always maintained a consistent quality and I could not pick my favorite until 2009 "Those Whom The Gods Detest". I gave it 6/6 but it was a 10/6 and I still think so today. It was and is a death/thrash metal masterpiece. Since Nile always delivered I never thought they were even capable of making a less than stellar album. As of now, I'm not feeling so sure, as Bruce Dickinson would say.
In many ways, "At The Gates Of Sethu", titled in a similar manner as their first and third album (the latter, "In Their Darkened Shrines", by many considered their finest), feels like some of the best material of Nile career, such as the excellent "Inevitable Degradation of the Flesh", "The Gods Who Light Up the Sky" or "Supreme Humanism of Megalomania" - melodic, catchy compositions with great riffs. But, great songs nothwithstanding, the rest of it sounds a little samey, like death metal for the sake of death metal, never a good sign or thing in this particular genre.
"At The Gates Of Sethu" is nowhere as ambitious as its brilliant predecessor. Perhaps this is because, despite traditionally fantastic musicianship, the production is deeply flawed. Guitars remind me of Nevermore's "Dreaming Neon Black" which has a rather inferior, overbassed production. The sound is similar on Nile's record, especially on the 1st track and no wonder for both had the same producer (Neil Kernon). Things get a bit better in slower sections, but it's puzzling how the same guy responsible for the supreme sound of "Annihilation of the Wicked", could not quite rise to the occasion this time, unless he was asked to produce a distorted, compressed, guitar sound with scarce punch, but that is just a speculation, a judgment I'm not willing to make with regards to the band of Nile's caliber and a composer of Karl Sanders' quality.
The fact remains, that despite having some of the most vicious vocals (with some very good cleans) and the ferocious guitarwork that reminds me of Nile's 1st two albums ("Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka" and subsequent "Black Seeds of Vengeance"), this album sounds a little uneven, why, even mediocre at times. The aforementioned debut is probably the best reference point-there are even two instrumental tracks with a slavedriver who sounds like the winged asshole who imprisoned little Annakin with his mother in "Phantom Manace". Consequently, this album repeats some of the successful moves of the debut, but also the flaws are just as apparent in comparison.
Technically, all is well, Nile is still Nile, complete with rich instrumentation and the excellent ideas along with the balanced use of insane speed v. slow burners, but something's amiss here. For sure, some moments do feel derivative, as was the case with "Ithyphallic". The closing track, for example, could be the not so distant cousin of both "Eaters of the Dead" ("Ithyphallic") and "Stones of Sorrow" ("Amongst the Catacombs...", et al.). As this is not the first time, it seems as though, as is the case with many metal acts these days, the mighty powerhouse may be running out of ideas.
I think "At The Gates Of Sethu" is a good not great album that feels a little undeveloped. Perhaps, indeed, having delivered seven albums of their innovative Middle Eastern death metal, Nile has thrown at us everything they had with their previous masterpiece, all the tricks up their sleeve have been used up and the band no longer appears unique, but that's not my opinion. In my opinion, sometimes it gets to be around 3 years since last album and it's time to put another one to stay relevant, even if what you have is only half of a fantastic album. It certainly feels like it could be the case with Nile's 7th offering.
I still believe in these guys, every band is entitled to delivering some disappointment once in a while, which this album certainly is an example of, for many of us who are used to worshipping at Nile's arcane altar.
Rating: 4.5 / 6
Composed by Dethster4life