Review: Nile “Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka” [Relapse Records]

Review: Nile “Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka” [Relapse Records]

- in Reviews
Rating 68%
A claustrophobic journey through the catacombs
68 %
User Rating : 5 (3 votes)

Nile hit the scene some time during the mid 90’s, releasing their debut full length here in 1998, making them part of the second wave of American death metal, and in a sense represent a departure from tradition. The music still is relentless, heads-down brutal tech death metal but with a fresh outlook on what could be achieved within the genre.

The album sounds like a navigation through the narrow galleries of Ancient Egyptian pyramids, with vicious coarse riffing traveling in all directions with electric energy, led by turbulent blast beat assaults. The tracks alternate between hectic technicality that just sounds rabid and practically out of control on outrageously high BPM tempos, and the more ponderous power chord laden dirges. There’s an element of awe-inspiring grandeur with the orchestral work mostly during the intros or as separate short instrumentals.

Picturesque hymns of wide forceful percussion with epic trumpets on top and ritualistic choir chants thrust forward by occasional distressing cries exude an atmospheric exoticism hearkening back to old traditional music from early middle-eastern Antiquity, or at very least what is generally perceived as being that sound. The distortion guitars also help bring that foreign flavor to the tracks with a heavy use of perfect fifths, considered to be the backbone of Ancient Egyptian song, particularly on harmonized tremolo picked verses, on power chord sections and with support from the solemn, almost funereal backing choirs. The album is ridden with solos flying in with impromptu impetus, aggressively shredding their way to the front of the mix with chromatic fury and whammy vibrato madness, contributing to the nauseating cacophony of the busier verse sections.

From a purely sound-engineering standpoint the album is particularly dark, if not rather on the muffled side. Nearly every single instrument sounds bassy and distinctly low; albeit with sufficient definition; like the whole record is an intentionally baritone production, as if to accentuate the smothering underground claustrophobia of this death metal voyage through the pyramid galleries. The guitars are apparently tuned down to some unknown letter outside the A-G paradigm, and even when the guitarists move on to higher areas on the fret-board their instruments sound thick and impervious to the shrilling acoustic effects of higher frequency. The vocals are deeply guttural and cavernous or mid-rangy and spiteful as both guitarists trade off sections.

‘Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka’ is a fine inaugural full-length by the South Carolinians, although despite its novelty and efforts to push the musical and thematic boundaries of the style it may still come across as somewhat formulaic. It feels fresh and intriguing rather than anything beyond that, and may only be interesting the first few times while not incentivizing the listener to have to return regularly later. After the orchestral exotic aspect has been discovered, and the frantic guitars and drum show has been absorbed and digested, there isn’t enough memorable quality to the tracks to make this much more than a solid debut effort. The focus seems to be more on shape rather than content, and while they had undeniably generated a singular identity for themselves, underneath a recognizable facade that entity lacked the depth in personality required for immortalized glory.

Release date: April 28th, 1998

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