As South Carolina death metal vets Nile teased their new album, What Should Not Be Unearthed, over the past few months, the million-dollar question was this: would they stay the course of their overly-technical last few releases, or go back to their roots? Fortunately, they went with the latter. Mastermind Karl Sanders had made no secret of his desire to scale things back and have fun this time out. And it’s clear from the start that he followed through on that.
Nile’s been around since 1993, and with each successive release, they’ve built on the foundation of the last. The band’s first four albums represent some of their best–sounding work to date, but their excursions into extremely technical territory on the last three made for difficult listens. Here on album number eight, it’s obvious from the opener “Call to Destruction” that a return to their roots was in the cards. The song immediately recalls the heft and speed of the best stuff from Black Seeds of Vengeance and Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka. Later highlights like “Evil to Cast Out Evil” and the title track recall the bruising In Their Darkened Shrines. The obvious comparison is to the classic track, “Sarcophagus,” as many of these tracks share a similar, foundational groove.
The band does get technical on “Negating the Abominable Coils of Apep” and “In the Name of Amun,” both of which feature the band’s signature double bass and high-speed riffage. Later, “Rape of the Black Earth” boasts one of Karl’s best vocal performances in recent memory — a kind of half-growled, half-yelled lesson in immense intensity. Each of these seems to be a race to see who can play the fastest, but on the surface, it still feels like a band that’s stretching out and enjoying what they’re doing. Instead of, you know…speed just for speed’s sake.
And of course, Nile incorporates their textbook Middle Eastern flavor seamlessly here, pulling in various instruments that help set the scene of Ancient Egypt throughout. The short instrumental “Ushabti Reanimator” puts you squarely in the middle of it, with its delicate percussion and inclusion of the Middle Eastern stringed instrument, the bağlama.
With this album, Nile has finally returned to the groove-heavy brand of death metal that first pulled me in all those years ago. They sound settled and comfortable once again, which you have to hope will be a recurring theme in the future. Only time will tell, but for now, What Should Not Be Unearthed is a fun listen and currently sits highly on my list of favorites for the year.