When drummer George Kollias joined the Egyptian-themed death metal band Nile in 2004, the band moved away from the intricate compositions that had categorized earlier albums and embraced a more traditional death metal style.
The move was intentional, and made because Kollias was such a monumental death metal drummer. Mixing Middle Eastern instrumentation, chanting and sound effects into songs “is something that Nile has always done, and we’d kind of gotten away from it,” guitarist Dallas Toler-Wade said. “Since 2004, we’d been playing with George Kollias and there was a lot of fire there. Karl (Sanders) didn’t want to screw with that. He just wanted to play.”
But, when Sanders and Toler-Wade began assembling songs for the band’s new album “Those Whom The Gods Detest,” they wanted to return to the epic, cinematic feel of albums such as “In Their Darkened Shrines.”
“Karl has a lot of great ideas when it comes to songs he writes and the soundscape,” Toler-Wade said. ” … It just came naturally. Karl would bring in demos of whole songs and that stuff was already arranged on the original demo..”
“Those Whom The Gods Detest” is crushingly heavy – with incredibly fast drumming and riffs and solos from Sanders and Toler-Wade that are impossibly intricate. If that were the only weapon in Nile’s technical death metal arsenal, it would be enough: But the band uses Middle Eastern arrangements, clean vocals, Egyptian and Muslim prayers, sound effects and ambient noise to make “Those Whom The Gods Detest” a larger than life death metal assault.
Sanders and Toler-Wade are co-vocalists, releasing metal growls that cause windows and furniture to shake. Sanders, who is the band’s chief lyricist, does extensive research into his song material. The liner notes for the new album are extensive, as Sanders discusses the history behind songs such as “Hittite Dung Incantation,” “The Eye of Ra” and “Permitting the Noble Dead to Descend into the Underworld.” While metal bands have been drawing on history and literature at least since Iron Maiden, Sanders takes song research to a new level.
Toler-Wade, who wrote the music for three of the songs on “Those Whom The Gods Detest,” said the songs are built around the ideas in the lyrics.
“Usually, Karl will write all the lyrics first and we work from that,” Toler-Wade said. “The lyrics paint a picture in our minds of what we’re trying to do with the song. “… We want to be able to (merge the idea) to the music in a way that flows pretty naturally.”
Toler-Wade said the songs the band creates are often difficult to play. “On a more technical aspect, Karl and I practice quite frequently,” he said.
For the recording, the band again worked with producer Neil Kernon, who produced the band’s last two albums. For the drum tracks, the band brought in Erik Rutan – who has performed with Morbid Angel and Hate Eternal and produced albums by Cannibal Corpse, Goatwhore, Six Feet Under and Vital Remains.
“We had been listening to some of the stuff Erik had been doing,” Toler-Wade said. For the drum tracks, the band went to Rutan’s studio in Florida. Rutan brought several ideas to the recording session, Toler-Wade said.
“When Erik walks in the room, the place turns into metal,” Toler-Wade said. “He has a lot of great ideas … It’s just good to have him around for spirit … but his technical knowledge is good, too.”
Parts of the album were also recorded in Sanders’ home in South Carolina and in Chicago. With perfectionists such as Kernon and Rutan on board, the recording was challenging, Toler-Wade said.
“The saying on this album was: “That was a perfect take. Do it again,'” Toler-Wade said. “Even though it was irritating, they’ll get the best performance out of you.”
With Nile, it’s easy to read the lyrics, which often come straight out of Egyptian history, and make modern connections. “Hittite Dung Incantation,” a song about people who believe they have been possessed by demons – and the lengths they’ll go to be free of the possession – is very funny … until one remembers that people are just as prone to superstition today.
“As individuals, we all have those kinds of ideas about things and I think those can surface in the lyrics sometimes,” Toler-Wade said. “The old saying is, ‘history repeats itself.'”
As a guitarist, Toler-Wade has never stopped learning. Toler-Wade said he studied music theory in high school, but now learns new methods through instructional videos and YouTube.
“Know your (guitar) neck … There are a lot of possibilities there,” Toler-Wade said. To aspiring guitarists, Toler-Wade said the best advice is to simply “play what you like.”
Nile’s guitar style is unconventional. “What’s cool about the way Karl plays is (he’s) leaping out of the fret board a little bit – not sticking to notes and frets but bending a little bit to give it an anguished feel,” Toler-Wade said.
The band is preparing for an extensive touring schedule that will take them across the world this fall and in 2010.
“So far, we’re going to be leaving the 15th of this month to go to Europe (for a tour) that’s going to cover all of Europe,” Toler-Wade said. In mid-January, the band will embark on a U.S. tour that will take them to Headliners Music Hall in Louisville on Feb. 13.
“There’s talk of South America, Japan and Australia in May and hopefully festivals in the summer in Europe,” Toler-Wade said. Touring can be grueling, but is not as brutal as the average person thinks, he said.
“It’s not the easiest way to live, but it’s not that bad,” Toler-Wade said. “You definitely can’t be a pansy a** to survive out there, but it’s not that bad. Do you know what happens backstage now? Everybody sits backstage with their laptops.”
To hear songs from “Those Whom The Gods Detest” and other Nile albums, visit the band’s MySpace page here.