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February 1 2005
Nile - At the Gate of Sethu
While Nile’s popularity and market penetration has gone from strength to strength over the years with each successive album and the band find themselves sitting amongst the upper tier of death metal acts they haven’t, in my opinion, really done much to push themselves from a compositional perspective in quite a while and have, instead, focussed on amping up the intensity with George Kollias’ drumming being the primary driving force behind it. His joining of the band in 2004 and his first recorded output with them in the form of 2005’s Annihilation of the Wicked was a major turning point in the band’s sound and is one that they have left relatively untouched over the past seven years.
For this reviewer at least, things have been getting pretty stale in the Nile camp and 2009’s Those Whom the Gods Detest did go a ways towards injecting some much needed life into the band’s sound which came in the form of a renewed focus on writing memorable and even catchy riffs but, whilst I paid the album its dues at the time, it still has found very infrequent play time since I wrote the review. Three years later Nile are back with their seventh album and I felt a hopeful excitement mixed with suspicion and apprehension as I sat down to check it out.
The first thing that stands out about At the Gate of Sethu is the production. It is quite bottom-heavy as far as the guitars are concerned but it isn’t balanced out with much mid-range presence which leads to a rather thin and underwhelming sound. It’s very unlike the kind of sound we’ve come to expect from Nile over the years and its absence starkly contributes to an overall lack of the imposing heaviness Nile are known for. It’s an interesting if somewhat perplexing direction for the band to have taken and the impetus behind it is anyone’s guess though, if I had to take a stab, the cynic in me would assume that it was an attempt to differentiate this album not by the material itself but purely by its overall aesthetic. It seems to be a reasonable assumption based on the relative similarity in formula that each of Nile’s albums has followed for a number of years now and of which At the Gate of Sethu does not diverge.
The formula remains relatively un-tinkered with on At the Gate of Sethu, however there is the odd hint here and there of the band’s early days with the feel and construction of the material bringing to mind the kind of song-writing the band employed on 1998’s Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka, albeit with a more contemporary Nile at the helm. But while subtle references to Nephren-Ka are definitely a welcome addition for this reviewer (because that album is still one of my death metal favourite releases from that period if not of all time) what Sethu lacks is the balancing out of their immense technical skill with the immediacy, catchiness, and exciting newness that was such an appealing fixture of its predecessor.
The material on Sethu is, to be perfectly frank, very much what you would expect from Nile although it is also some of the weakest and least memorable output from the band in a while. I’m not a big enough fan of the band to be able to draw detailed parallels between the songs on offer here and those that have come before but there is definitely an unmistakable feeling that Nile are treading old ground more often than not on this album which, in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad or wholly unexpected thing this far into their career, but it most certainly is a bad thing when the kind of excitement and enjoyment you want and expect from a band of this calibre isn’t there to back it up.
At the Gate of Sethu isn’t necessarily a bad album and, when you compare it to a lot of other albums out there, it can certainly hold its own (even if purely only on a technical level) but it definitely is a below average Nile album and is perhaps the greatest evidence yet that the stagnancy that has slowly but surely been building within their camp may finally be reaching critical mass and could ultimately be on the verge of overtaking them completely. I’m going to play the very uncharacteristic role of the optimist here for once and hope that this isn’t the case and that they find a way to push through the creative impasse that’s blocking them but they need to do it quickly because we’re now seven albums in and I’ve never been less interested in what these stalwarts of the genre have to offer.
(Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment)
Added: June 27th 2012
Reviewer: Michael O'Brien
Related Link: Official Website
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