One of the major death metal revelations of the 2000s, Nile have since made a name for themselves despite the brutality of their music. The theme the band are so cleverly using in all their songs, Ancient Egypt, has received an enthusiastic response from the audience. But what else could we expect from high-class albums like Their Darkened Shrines or, more recently, Those Whom The Gods Detest?

After almost fifteen years, Sanders’ band are still exploring the age-old, sun-kissed shores of their concept. Their last offering, At The Gates Of Sethu, distances itself from its predecessor in more than one way.

In the following interview, Karl Sanders tells us more about this new cornerstone in the band’s journey.

« When you listen to At The Gate Of Sethu, it’s immediately apparent that we really worked hard to get everything nice and clean and tight and streamlined. I think it’s a very focused record because of all the extra work we put into it. »

Radio Metal : In February of this year, you explained that you had lost contact with your bass player, Chris Lollis, during the writing and recording of the album. After three months of silence from him, you hired a replacement, Todd Ellis. Have you had any news from Chris since then? What happened on his side?

Karl Sanders (vocals, guitar): It turns out he had some legal troubles and decided not to tell anybody about it. It was a very bad choice on his part. All he really had to do was pick up the phone, call us and tell us what was going on. It would have been simple. But simply not contacting us and disappearing… He wasn’t home, his girlfriend didn’t know where he was, he didn’t answer any e-mails or phone calls… You can’t run a band if you can’t get in touch with people! What were we supposed to do? Wait around and wonder if he was going to show up in time for our tour? We couldn’t do that. It was a poor choice on his part.

I guess you didn’t have much time to find a replacement, since you were in the middle of the recording of the new album. How did you end up getting Todd?

As you said, we realized we had no time: as soon as we would finish our album, it would be time to go on the Black Dahlia Murder tour. So we went back through all the audition tapes we had taken two years ago. Out of all the people in those video tapes, Todd was the best.

It looks like Nile is having a hard time getting a stable bass player. If I’m correct, you’ve had like five different bass players since the creation of the band?

Yeah. It would give me a good reason to always hate bass players!

From what I’ve read, you’ve worked for ten months straight on that album, to the exclusion of everything else. That’s quite a long process. Do all Nile albums always take that much time to be conceived?

No, this one took a little longer. I wrote eleven tracks and fully demo-recorded them – guitars, vocals, bass, drums, keyboards, everything. We didn’t use all of them, I think we used eight of those songs I had written. But yeah, a lot of hard word went into this record. I think, when you listen to At The Gate Of Sethu, it’s immediately apparent that we really worked hard to get everything nice and clean and tight and streamlined. I think it’s a very focused record because of all the extra work we put into it.

What will you do with the left-over material?

Some people in the band want to use it for the next record. Some people in the band want to put out an EP. I don’t know, we’ll have to wait and see what happens.

Nile’s former vocalist and bass player Jon Vesano did guest vocals on Those Whom The Gods Detest, and now he’s even more present on this new album. Did something click in your mind when you heard his performance on Those Whom The Gods Detest, so you wanted more of his vocals?

Yes. Jon seems to have a way to channel an inner demonic possession. He kind of closes his eyes and lets the evil spirit come out of him. We really wanted some more of that on this record. You can hear him on the track “Slaves Of Xul”, and he’s also doing some stuff on “Tribunal Of The Dead”.

Couldn’t he rejoin the band when you were looking for a bass player?

Jon has a very serious career, which is why he left the band in the first place. For him it’s not possible to keep his career and to tour. He had to choose one or the other, and he chose his steady career. We understand that choice: going out on tour as a death metal band doesn’t make much money. So we understand Jon’s choice. We’re still good friends with him, we have a relationship with him.

« It’s always a great challenge for any band to retain their identity and yet do some new and interesting things within the confines of who they are. »

There’s really a sense of madness with the vocal performance on this album, which is also very diverse. It looks like the vocals were one of the main focuses on this album.

Absolutely. From a very early stage this time, we recorded the demo vocals on all the songs, so we could put as much focus on the vocals as we do on the guitars, bass, and the drums.

The songs on the album are all under six minutes, except for the last one – but even this one is barely seven minutes long. Your previous albums contained at least two epic songs, which were generally regarded at the albums’ main pieces. Was this one of your challenges, making more concise songs while retaining an epic feeling?

Absolutely. We wanted to write shorter songs, songs that were more streamlined, and perhaps don’t repeat as many parts. It was a conscious decision to have shorter songs. One of the criticisms that I’ve heard about the last couple of records, and that I thought had merit, was that the songs were getting too long to some of the listeners.

The music sounds quite frenzied and technical on this album, especially with regards to the drums. Was this, associated with the vocals, a way for you to explore another side of Nile’s musical concept?

Absolutely, yes. We wanted to try new arrangements, new drum and guitar ideas, new structure ideas. It’s always a great challenge for any band to retain their identity and yet do some new and interesting things within the confines of who they are. We don’t want to change who we are, but we enjoy doing new things. I mean, it has to be interesting for us, too.

For the fourth consecutive time, this album was produced by Neil Kernon. Do you think he’s the perfect producer for Nile?

Neil has put a lot of time and a lot of hard work in this. With Neil, it’s been a journey of discovery, learning what this band in particular – Nile – needs to be recorded, and what we need to do to help Nile sound the way it’s supposed to sound. That’s a very long learning process, figuring out how to do things that work for this band. So starting over with someone else means throwing away all that hard work we put into learning how to make Nile records.

The production actually sounds less massive and rawer compared to your previous efforts. Was this intended?

When Neil first came to the rehearsals, before we started recording, he told us that what he wanted to achieve with this record was to capture the raw emotions, the fire he hears when he comes to watch us play in our rehearsal room. He wanted to capture that and present that. He wanted to have an invisible production, just capture stuff and present it to people with the raw feeling.

More generally, Nile’s music is known for being quite brutal. Do you think this brutality represents Ancient Egypt?

(laughs) That’s a good question! I think those were certainly more brutal times than we live in today. Today we have a very easy life: we have electricity, air conditioning, automobiles, machines to do all the work for us. We live in a world of democracy. That wasn’t the case 6,000 years ago. The Egyptians seem to be the original totalitarian dictatorships. The pharaoh was everything, he was god on earth, which is certainly the opposite of democracy.

« Nile is known for a certain kind of music, and I think it’s important to maintain an identity. […] I’m not going to put out a disco record tomorrow because I feel the artistic need to do so. »

In an interview, you stated that you haven’t abandoned your identity and that you shouldn’t “fuck over your fans”. It is important for you to stay true to a certain course of action?

Sure, yeah, absolutely. I think there are many bands who radically changed what they do, and I think that, if you change too much, then your fans don’t necessarily understand. I’m not going to name any names of other bands, or anything. But Nile is known for a certain kind of music, and I think it’s important to maintain an identity. Who is Nile? Well, Nile certainly has some identifying characters. The people that have been loyal to us over the years, who follow us, come to our shows, buy our records and support the band – I think those people matter. Without fans, you can have no music in the first place. So the fans are important to us.

Don’t you think that fans who are too possessive of their band of choice should be shaken sometimes? Don’t you think an artist should be free to do what they really want to make good music, instead of doing what the fans want?

I don’t say we’re limited by our fans. (long hesitation) Yes, it’s art, and yes, we should have freedom. I feel free, I don’t feel restricted. But I also know who I am. I’m not going to put out a disco record tomorrow because I feel the artistic need to do so. I don’t feel that artistic need, anyway. I think having the freedom to do what we do and have no one tell us what we have to do, that’s enough for me. With Nile, I’m doing what I want to do. To me, that’s freedom right there: the artistic freedom to be whoever I want to be. I know who I want to be: Nile! (laughs)

But if you felt the artistic need to play disco, what would you do?

Then I would start a different project!

Speaking of other projects, can we expect a third solo album from you?

A lot of people have been asking me that. Now that I’m finally finished with this Nile record, perhaps there’s time to work on a solo project. In fact, I think in every single interview, on every single show we’ve played for the Black Dahlia Murder tour, people have been asking me: “When will we hear your side project? Will there be a third record?” I think yes. I want to do a third record.

Do you think it will be in the same vein, or do you have, as we already mentioned, other artistic needs?

That’s an interesting question. On the one hand, I had an idea, a concept for this third record, but it’s a little bit heavier than the last two solo projects. So I don’t know. I’m going to put some thought into it and figure out exactly what it is that I want to do.

That’s it for me. Any last words?

I can’t wait to come back to France. Fuck yeah!

OK! See you on tour some time, I guess.

Yes, in November. We’re working on a big tour with Kreator, Morbid Angel and Nile. We’ll go all across Europe.

That’s a nice package!

Yes, I think it will do very well!

Interview conducted on may, 2012, by phone
Transcription : Saff’

Nile’s website : www.nile-catacombs.net

Album : At The Gates Of Sethu, out on june, 29th via Nuclear Blast

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