Nile - "Kafir," live at the Key Club, 11/16/10
Here's my new year's resolution: grow some balls. The cramped quarters of the Key Club's merch area, squeezed in between the men's and ladies' bathroom, almost requires interaction with band members. And despite the many times I had to pee during the L.A. stop of the Nile/Ex Deo/Psycroptic/Keep of Kalessin tour, I didn't work up the nerve to talk to a single musician. I made eye contact with KoK's vocalist Thebon but opted not to tell him how much I loved Armada andKolossus. Nile's Ra-like frontman Karl Sanders (whose last solo album I reviewed here) stood at the Nile table, and while I debated telling him how much I respected his pedagogical commitment to Egyptian mythology vis-a-vis death metal, the best I could manage was purchasing a sweet keychain bottle opener from the merch girl. Karl, just know that I will henceforth dedicate each brew that I open with my Nile opener to Tenenet.
But I come to praise Nile, not to drink with them. The band's riffing has long been some of death metal's most spectacular, weaving in Arabian modes, heave-ho string bends and exotic instrumentation amidst the fingerblur. All the surface uniqueness of Nile's music came across just fine in Nile's second L.A. stop of 2010. Even more impressive, lickety-split songs like "Permitting the Noble Dead to Descend to the Underworld" sounded surprisingly huge -- rounded, air-sucking, supremely heavy. Maybe it was the band's gear. Maybe it was a natural result of the increased emphasis on ass-shaking on their last release, Those Whom the Gods Detest. Whatever the cause, Nile sounded every bit as regal and dominant as the arriving gods that so many of their songs portend.
Nile - "Hittite Dung Incantation," live at the Key Club, 11/16/10
Once a band for guitar worshippers, Nile have emerged as fantastic vocal hookists. "There is no god but god / There is no god!" from "Kafir" is easily 2009's most memorable metal lyric, and barely a song was played at the Key Club that didn't have a shout-along refrain. The entire club sang along with the darkened melody of "Those Whom the Gods Detest"'s chorus, no doubt sympathizing with the song's unrepentant message: "Impenitent / I blaspheme the sacred scrolls / Unwilling to submit / I embrace what Ra hath called profane." Add that alongside "No life 'til leather" to the list of heavy metal's unofficial slogans.
There was a time when I found Nile's deep-throated death growls too hard to stomach. At the Key Club, they were my favorite part of the show. Karl Sanders, Dallas Toler-Wade and live bassist Chris Lollis traded off lows and mids on Gods Detest standout "Hittite Dung Incantation." Death metal tends to focus on the talents of the individual, but there Nile was, snarling three-part gang vocals about warding off demons via dog feces. It was a jarringly powerful experience to hear three men step confidently up to their microphones and simultaneously utter their own take on the same horrid incantation, like a death metal Rashomon with all versions overlapping.
There's nothing surprising about Nile playing everything perfectly. We should expect musical perfection (this is different from technical perfection) from top-tier bands. What separated this show from most death metal shows is the band's freewheeling, confident energy. Full-band fist-pumps were plentiful at the Key Club, as were smiles from the always-affable Sanders. I was most drawn to bassist Lollis (front and center in the above videos), who moved with an impish energy I rarely see onstage. He lunged up and in to his microphone as he growled, holding his bass nearly upright when not crouching low in communion with the heaviness. Lollis and his bandmates are obviously moved by this music, and it helps immeasurably to move me.
Nile spend January/February 2011 on tour in Europe. Check the dates here.