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As the Nuclear Blast Records era of Nile has abundantly proven, it would be nothing but an exercise in futility to expect of the band to rise to the lofty songwriting heights of ‘In Their Darkened Shrines’ and ‘Annihilation Of the Wicked’ again. It is part and parcel for contemporary Nile to remain on the creative plateau they settled on with ‘Ithyphallic’. Unlike its first four records the Nuclear Blast era is one of sturdy reliability, but seldom one of shocking innovation. This album is no different. ‘What Should Not Be Unearthed’ is testament to the fact that Nile’s best and brightest days are now well behind them.

Ever since the abolishment of its signature three-way vocal approach the South Carolina trio has been struggling who to position as frontman. The last few albums saw a diminished involvement of Karl Sanders as a singer as he remains the main creative force within the trio. George Kollias, the Greek force of nature that has brought a sense of stability to the band’s volatile drum position, is his usual self – with all the good and bad that entails. Kollias still has the tendency to fill up every serene moment in the music with myriad complex fills, cymbal crashes and nearly constant double-foot action. As technically refined, and physically demanding, as Nile’s music has become over the last decade and a half, the band has never been able to recapture the eerie atmosphere of its first two albums quite in the same way.

Having reached its technical apex on ‘Annihilation Of the Wicked’ (and its creative one on the album before) the band has been alternating between straightforward heaviness and attempts at epic songwriting to mixed success. ‘What Should Not Be Unearthed’ ramps up the aggression, and has little in the way of subtlety, or cinematic Egyptian segues, like ‘Ithyphallic’ before it. That isn’t to say that the record isn’t without its merits. Three songs recall older Nile, both vocally and compositionally, but the lion’s share of the album is business as usual. Highlights are far and few, and it’s hard to tell whether Nile is trying too hard, or not hard enough. The songwriting alchemy of the Chief Spires era is gone. Modern day Nile seems to have trouble finding its voice. Since leaving Relapse Records the band has gone through several cover artists, and the artworks have been as patchy as the songwriting of the records on which they appear.

Nile is having trouble living up to its own legacy

Call to Destruction and In the Name Of Amun are the first to recall classic Nile. The former with its ‘Among the Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka’ styled riff construction and overall pace, and the latter with its ethnic opening with female chants and extended solo/lead section. In fact the solo section is so extensive that it recalls post-‘Dawn Of the Apocalypse’ Vital Remains and ‘The Stench Of Redemption’ Deicide in its excessiveness. The slow conclusion to the title track is a carbon-copy of an atmospheric section on the ‘Ithyphallic’ song As He Creates So He Destroys. Evil to Cast Out Evil is a highlight solely because it recalls Nile’s older material. The song is beautifully laid out, with churning riffing, barbaric Pete Hammoura styled drumming, a mantra-like chorus – and it stays, mercifully, to-the-point. Age Of Famine has low grunted vocals that are reminiscent of the Chief Spires era, and the song is only memorable because of that passage. The instrumental Ushabti Reanimator is the best song of the record, probably because it reminds of ‘Second Sephira Cella’ Equimanthorn more than anything this band has lend its name to. Rape Of the Black Earth is the closest to a modern day Execration Text.

One of the greatest hurdles that Nile faced after ‘In Their Darkened Shrines’ was finding a suitable replacement for vocalist/bass guitarist Jon Vesano. Vesano continues to appear as a glorified studio vocalist, but his hulking presence is missed now more than ever. It is telling that Sanders and Toler-Wade continue to share bass guitar duties in the studio. Dallas Toler-Wade still does the majority of the vocals, but at least Karl Sanders is present again vocally too. Toler-Wade’s shouted vocal cadence (that appeared on ‘Ithyphallic’ first) still hasn’t subsided, and it doesn’t here either. Adding to the trouble is the fact that some songs end abruptly for no logical reason other than that they do. ‘What Should Not Be Unearthed’ is a stock Nile album, and with the burden of expectation gone, it has (more or less) become the accepted standard. It seems that Nile can’t escape the towering shadow of its own reputation and legacy.

NileBand

The production is what has become standard for contemporary Nile. It misses the breadth, range and textural depth of ‘In Their Darkened Shrines’, but at least it doesn’t push Kollias’ drums to the forefront as much as the last couple of albums did. It sounds, in songwriting as much as in production, as a reconfiguration of the divisive ‘Ithyphallic’. The artwork by Polish graphic designer Michał “Xaay” Loranc (who, truthfully, did his best work with Greek death metal band Cerebrum, with whom Kollias also briefly recorded) is better than the veritably abysmal sepia-toned mess by Davide Nadalin that adorned ‘Ithyphallic’ – yet it still can’t hold a candle to the work of Wes Benscoter and Orion Landau that characterized the Relapse Records era . ‘What Should Not Be Unearthed’ certainly isn’t Nile’s worst, but to call it anything other than functional would be doing it a disservice. The price of greatness is responsibility, and like Morbid Angel before them, Nile is having trouble living up to its own legacy. ‘What Should Not Be Unearthed’ isn’t the next great chapter in Nile’s storied history. It is a sobering reminder that they are only human, and fallible. It isn’t the creative revival you might have hoped for. It just another sturdy Nile album: rugged, technical and without any highlights to speak of. This band thrives on internal conflict and instability to be truly able to tap the well of its creativity, and the stability of the last years has made them complacent and contented. This river runs dry…

Nile has written far superior material than this populist slog. Some things should not be unearthed, including this album.

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Wouter Roemers Wouter Roemers is a self-professed elitist, music critic, and death metal purist from Belgium. Known for his outspokenness and frank opinions on all things metal, bands and industry alike. Proprietor of Least Worst Option where he spends inordinate amount of time analyzing records three people care about.