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By: Raymond Westland
A new Nile record is always something to look out for. Although the band’s overall sound been established for quite some time now, they always find enough new angles to keep things fresh and inspiring. Raymond Westland caught up with Nile’s main man Karl Sanders to explore the dark chasms of What Should Not Be Unearthed, having fun while recording an album, the band’s recurring bassist problem and the hardships of being a touring musician.
(((o))): What Should Not Be Unearthed is purposely written and recorded with epic sonic brutality in mind as a conscious reaction of the more technical approach of At The Gates Of Sethu. What brought around this chance?
Karl: After Sethu I did not feel like doing another album album like that again. During that time, there were a lot of mental insanities going on, and some aspects of that record we thought could have been better. This time around I wanted to do a record for the fans. On some levels, Sethu was us responding to the yearning and drive to become more technical and more progressive and use super clean tones, to focus on the musicianship. We wanted to deliver a record in which nobody could possibly in any way question our musicianship. While it was something of a statement for us, that approach doesn’t necessarily make for a fun record to listen to. In retrospect when you make an album like that you take the listener out of the equation and I don’t feel we should do that to our fans. They deserve better. Having that said, Sethu was an important stepping stone from getting to the point where we are right now as a band.
(((o))): Do you feel the new album is more in line with seminal Nile classics like Black Seeds Of Vengeance, Annihilation Of the Wicked and To Whom The Gods May Detest?
Karl: Yes and no. That would be more like a superficial perception. The entire place where the songs come from nowadays is very different. I wouldn’t necessarily call Unearthed a definitive Nile record in the way that Black Seeds Of Vengeance and In Their Darkened Shrines are. Both of those albums encompass all the elements of the Nile sound when we were trying to establish ourselves as a band. We’ve done those records and I don’t feel to repeat them over and over again. The new record is all about the songs and there are some very catchy elements in there, which make them memorable and fun to listen to. If you stick our new record against the rest of our catalogue, then Unearthed would be our “fun” record if you will (laughs).
(((o))): Nile is as intense as death metal possibly gets, so how are important are contrast and dynamics in your music?
Karl: Very important. My approach for this record was mind bogglingly simple. When I was writing the songs and putting them all together the sole criteria was whether a riff was heavy and whether it had the right feeling and does it have the spirit of metal. It didn’t matter whether said riff was fast and tricky or slow and simple. It simply didn’t matter to me. The only thing that mattered to me whether that part would move me and whether it had the spirit of metal. Just following that simple guideline was very liberating for me. Just to play songs and make music and not to feel obligated to outdo other bands when it comes to technicality and musicianship. There are still plenty of technical parts on the new record , but they are properly harnessed to achieve a greater good.
(((o))): Unearthed was pretty much recorded in your own recording facility. What made you decide to go down that road?
Karl: When you work from home you can decide on your own hours. You can decide to move a microphone stand a hundred times around if you like, because you’re not paying by the hour. You can just focus on the music and not watch the clock. That’s the biggest benefit of having your own studio. Dallas [Toler-Wade, guitarist] and I sat beside Neil Kernon for like four records and you can’t possibly get away with at least learning something from a recording genius like him. This was the chance for us to try to implement some of the lessons we’ve learned. It turned out to be the most fun time Dallas and I had making a record. Making a Nile record has always been such a stressful and difficult experience in the past. Recording Amongst The Catacombs was actually a nice experience because we’ve been playing those songs for years before they were ever recorded. It was a whole new experience and we were drunk with creative power at the time. Every successive record after that the pressure grew and grew. This time around we had a lot of fun and you can hear that back in the tracks (laughs).
(((o))): How do you manage to keep the overall view on the whole project as you had to record your own guitars and vocals as well?
Karl: Dallas and I took turns at the producer’s chair. When he was recording his guitars and his vocals I was in the control room and vice versa. There was actually a team spirit of brotherhood we managed to achieve this time. In the past it has always been a struggle to achieve that, but I’m very happy with the teamwork this time.
(((o))): From the early days on you’ve been the principal songwriter within Nile. How are the writing duties divided nowadays?
Karl: Dallas wrote three songs for the new album and I consider him to be a significant contributor. Usually it’s Dallas and me that write the songs and send them to George [Kollias, drums] for additional feedback. After some back and forth we get down to the rehearsal space and play them and work on them until the three of us are reasonably satisfied with the outcome. Nile is a team, and we work as such. When we make decisions we make them together. We don’t vote on stuff. We are three people in the band so if one gets outvoted all the time that causes resentment and friction and that’s usually the start where things will start to go wrong. What we do instead is We discuss things until we all somehow decide on a course of action. Everyone’s input gets considered until everyone is reasonably happy with the outcome. I consider voting a form of violence (laughs).
(((o))): Generally speaking death metal fans tend to be rather conservative in their taste and aren’t really appreciative of musical experimentation as Morbid Angel witnessed with their last album. How do you find a balance between satisfying yourself as a musician while keeping the fans happy as well?
Karl: I don’t know whether there’s a secret formula of achieving this. This is actually an impossible balancing act. As an artist you’re always trying to push yourself in doing new things or to do the same thing in a different way. Having to second guess your audience is a tough thing. It’s a balancing act between making yourself happy or making the audience happy. There’s a saying that goes something like you can make some people happy some of the time and make other people happy another time, but you can never make them all happy all the time. It’s simply not going to happen. With Unearthed we decided to make our audience happy and put aside any ridiculous ego statements and do the record that we should do. That in turn made us happy, because we were making metal songs and that is exactly what we like to do. It was a wonderfully liberating experience to take this approach and right now I’m just really happy how the record turned out. I don’t know whether we’ll do it the same way on the next Nile record. With the upcoming tour schedule in mind, any thought of a new album is far from my thoughts (laughs).
(((o))): Things have changed quite a bit since the early days of Nile with file sharing pretty destroying the old business model of selling records and people using their cell phones to record live shows and put it on YouTube for instance. What are your two cents on both phenomena?
Karl: It doesn’t really matter whether you’re happy about those developments or not. It’s just the way it is. It’s just the same when you would say that you don’t like gravity and that we should float in the air. That’s really ridiculous and that’s not the world we live in. It’s 2015 and there’s file sharing and it’s here to stay and the same goes for people coming to your shows and filming it. It’s pointless of spending too much energy on saying that these things are destructive, because they are. People are going to do what they’re going to do, so I’m not going to spend much time and energy debating those things and worrying about it anymore. My job is pretty much the same through the years, namely writing songs, play my guitar and go out and tour. That’s where I put my focus nowadays.
(((o))): Many bands have a drummer issue, Nile seems to have a bassist issue. Where does this stem from and who’s filling in the bass position nowadays?
Karl: Yeah it’s almost like Spinal Tap (laughs). The new guy is Brad Parris and he’s a young guy and he has such a positive attitude. Nile isn’t an easy gig for a bass player. It’s not easy to step in a band with an established name who’s been around for twenty plus years and keep a sane level head when their lives are suddenly upside down. I don’t necessarily begrudge the difficulties they had to overcome when taking on this Nile bass player job. I wouldn’t want to do it (laughs).
(((o))): Not to mention the grueling touring schedule you guys always seem to have.
Karl: True, touring grinds your health down when you’re on a shitty tour bus playing shitty venues. It’s really easy to become sick physically, but also in your soul. Many guys I see have soul sickness. As a parent and a touring musician I also missed out on many important moments in the life of my twenty-year-old son. It’s heartbreaking in a way. It’s very difficult to be a parent from 5000 miles away. My son is almost as old as the band and yet for the biggest part of his life daddy was gone touring the world. I missed out on many things in his life and that’s painful and very regrettable.
(((o))): You included many ancient Egyptian texts and legends as a base for lyrics. What other potential legends or texts would you like to explore? Perhaps more Mesopotamian, Persian, Hittite or Assyrian legends and lore?
Karl: Now, that is a good question. I’m always on the look out for new texts to use for lyrical inspiration, although new isn’t exactly the right word to use here (laughs). We did tap into some Assyrian and Mesopotamian themes and stories on our previous records. We just finished our new record, so it’s hard for me to project which stories I would like to include on the next record. It’s a far distant thought for me.
(((o))): Finally, would you ever considering doing a project with Ashmedi from Melechesh? Both Nile and Melechesh are seen as the main bands when it comes down to mixing extreme metal with oriental flourishes?
Karl: Actually, Ashmedi and I have a few times discussed doing such a thing, because we have toured with them a couple of times and we’ve become good friends with them. I’m not opposed to do something with Ashmedi, it would be a lot of fun. He’s insane, but he’s an incredible artist. We might as well include Trey Azagthoth from Morbid Angel, because he’s the insane high priest of death metal (laughs). We would have a Triumvirate of Insanity.