Nile is not, as I assumed for a time, from Egypt. They’re from Greenville, South Carolina. Karl Sanders, who founded the band in 1993, infused his songwriting, and pretty much every other aspect of the band, with his interest in Egyptology and the ancient Middle East. Six records of self-described “Ithyphallic metal” later, the theme remains as a framework and mood – with occasional obvious Egyptian references – more than a goofy shtick. Some find the whole incessant Egypt thing tiresome, but it’s hard to deny the skill behind it, and the fact that Nile has spent the past two decades helping to influence a younger generation of technical death metal. That said, the number of shaggy teens in Job for a Cowboy and Black Dahlia Murder shirts who were losing their shit at Nile’s Altar Bar show last Thursday wasn’t surprising.
I missed the first two bands on the five-band bill – Moths and Beneath The Remains— arriving just in time for locals Kamikabe. They played all new material, hinted winkingly at some big news they couldn’t disclose, and despite their lack of bass player, managed to keep it real f-in’ heavy.
It’s always sort of tempting to make the ol’ comparison of metal shows to Christian religious services (especially when the venue is a repurposed church). The two often share an element of mysticism and a ‘join us’ mentality, plus there’s that whole raising of hands thing. It’s even more tempting to make the comparison when one of the bands is called Hour of Penance, is from Rome, and clearly finds Catholicism really, really annoying. Seriously, they can’t shut up about it. One of their t-shirts features a Zombie Pope, and a photo on their website shows the band surrounding a rather leggy, scantily clad version of Jesus’ mom in repose.
Hour of Penance’s recordings are ultra technical and bludgeoningly, frighteningly fast. Live … well, maybe I was on the ‘off’ side of the venue – I heard better reviews from the other side of the room — but much of the precision that makes Hour of Penance interesting was jumbled and muddied. And even more disappointingly, I couldn’t really make out any of the probably blasphemous things singer Paolo Pieri was yelling into the mic between songs.
Nile, like any 20-year-old band worth their salt, was a class act, and brought out some welcome personality and fun. Opening with crowd pleaser, “Those Whom the Gods Detest,” guitarist Dallas Toler Wade lorded over the crowd, head shorn like Yul Brynner in The Ten Commandments, and Sanders, ankh pendant around his neck, grooved along like the guitarist in some kind of psychedelic blues band. These guys don’t seem to care about being tough or scary or particularly evil and, unlike some of their ilk, don’t get bogged down in pure speed and muscle.
Nile’s combination of complexity and technical prowess makes their recordings razor sharp, and though I was in a better part of the venue for their performance, some of that was turned to sludgy noise. But Nile ruled both in spite of and because of that. People got wild: even tucked safely between two rows of stationary spectators, I got a palm shoved in my face and a finger in my eye. A couple of the aforementioned teens were ejected for pointlessly jumping a venue splitting barrier – the bouncers hauled them out like it was the moment they’d been waiting for all night. (“A bunch of us were supposed to do it,” I heard one say outside. “but only two of us had the balls.” )
Nile closed with “Black Seeds of Vengeance,” their set short of an hour. Most seemed to leave with grins on their faces, and many of us woke up the next morning with bangovers and incantations still ringing in our ears.