NILE "River of No Return"

By Dr. Abner Mality

No doubt about it, Nile is here to stay. The death metal band inspired by the mysteries of ancient Egypt has been stalking the Earth for about 20 years now, long since putting the lie to those who thought they were just a "gimmick" band. On the contrary, the home of the pharaohs has provided endless fascination for both the band and their followers. The latest Nile masterwork, "At The Gates of Sethu", is amazingly strong for a group which has been around so long and sees them venturing into some uncharted territory.

One might expect Karl Sanders, guitarist and vocalist, to be either a stern professorial type full of Egyptian esoterica or some gloomy nutcase yearning to bring Anubis back to life. On the contrary, I found Karl to be a jovial and humorous fellow during our recent conversation...not the dry academic at all. He seems to be the guy you could share a beer with at the local watering hole instead of someone dissecting mummies in the depths of a museum.

Do not be deceived, though, because the pulse of ancient Egypt still beats strongly within Mr. Sanders' breast. Join me now as I interrogate the Guardian of Nile and the Keeper of the Gates of Sethu...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES; It's an honor to finally talk to you. I was planning on doing it a couple of years ago in Rockford, Ilinois...

KARL SANDERS: Wow, Rockford, Illinois...holy smokes!

WC: Unfortunately, I wound up getting assaulted by the gendarmes and taken to the lock up for the rest of the evening.

KS: Well, then, you know you must have had a good time! (laughter)

WC: Well, I guess you haven't lived unless that's happened to you at least once!

KS: I think it is a rite of passage, as part of the young male experience.

WC: The male part's right, but I'm getting pretty long in the tooth...(laughter) Let me dive right into the interview. All the Nile releases are kind of morbid by their very nature, but with "At The Gates of Sethu", it seems to be even darker and more morbid than ever. I've heard it likened to a trip through the ancient catacombs. Is this the most death-related of all the Nile releases?

KS: I guess that all depends on your perspective. From a musical perspective, I'd say the darkness actually comes from the notes we're playing themselves rather than any dark, murky production. This album is sonically whistle-clean. Any darkness is actually generated by the inherent sound of the notes we're playing.

WC: Even though it is very grim, is there maybe a hopeful message to it in the end? Like maybe the spirit transcending the flesh?

KS: The entire album title is a metaphor. The Gate of Sethu refers to one of the gates in the Egyptian underworld that is guarded by this hideous serpent. It's one of many gates that the sun god Ra must pass through on his journey through the hours of darkness and night. He must face all these horrible underworld deities and really persevere through a lot of evil before emerging into the world again at the coming of dawn as the new day's sun. So it's kind of a metaphor for the entire Nile album-making experience. We work really hard on our records  and along the way  there's a lot of harsh inner criticism, self-doubt, long hours of hard work and sacrifice to finally arrive at the making of a record that we can feel proud of and share with our fans.

WC: Your journey to create the music is like Ra's journey through the underworld.

KS: Something like that, yeah!

WC: Hopefully you weren't afflicted by any demonic serpents while making the record.

KS: No, but we were afflicted by a demonic beagle, our dog Nova. As all beagles do, they love to fucking bark at anything and everything. It's quite a patience tester when you have to focus on your work and you have to tell the dog to shut the fuck up. (laughter) Again and again and again. A little old lady will be walking down the street past our house and she goes nuts. C'mon, it's a little old lady, not anybody that's going to rob us or burn our house down!

WC: One track on the new record that really interests me is "The Supreme Humanism of Megalomania". Is that about the ego of the pharaohs?

KS:  Absolutely. The pharaohs, as you know, built many grand monuments to themselves. Cheops built the Great Pyramid as his tomb. There is no grander self-expression of arrogance than putting thousands of people to labor for 20 years to build a mausoleum for yourself. I mean, come on! What this reminded me of was the 99% and the 1%...the Occupy Wall Street movement. Basically 1% of our population controls all the wealth and the other 99% of us are laboring and the fruits of our labor are being abused by people who don't give a fuck about us. A very similar situation.

WC: I hear you. Only a couple of syllables are changed from "pharaoh" to "CEO".

KS: (laughter) Pharaoh to CEO...I like that. I think I might use that.

WC: Did you ever see the 1950's movie "Land of the Pharaohs"?

KS: Absolutely, it was one of my favorites!

WC: It really captured the arrogance that you speak of, as well as how the actual pyramids were built.

KS: I loved it when the smart-assed queen (Joan Collins in an early bitchy role---Cinephile Mality) got stuck in the pyramid, buried in sand with the rest of the royal contingency and she didn't think she'd have to do it. I loved was great!

WC: That was one of the best endings to any movie I've seen.

KS: You know, in  15 years of doing Nile interviews, you are the only person who's ever seen that movie!

WC: I've always loved the old epic movies about ancient Rome or Egypt...even the biblical films like "The Ten Commandments"...

KS: Dude, you're preaching to the choir here. My Dad introduced me to those films when I was a young kid. That was really the genesis of the entire Nile catalogue..."Ben-Hur", "Sodom and Gomorrah", "Land of the Pharaohs"...dude!

WC: I don't there will ever be a better pharaoh than Yul Brynner. You guys have been releasing material since the mid-90's. Are you finding it more difficult to find original Egyptian themes to use in your music? Or is it still pretty fertile ground?

KS: It is very fertile ground. It is a wellspring that has no foreseeable bottom. There's 6000 years of Egyptian history...what's a few death metal albums compared to that?

WC: Have you ever given thought to taking ideas from a related culture, like Sumerian or Assyrian or something like that?

KS: Occasionally we dabble in related antiquities. On the new album, there's a track from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. It's called "Natural Liberation of Fear Through the Ritual Deception of Death".

WC: I didn't know about the Tibetan connection! What led you to investigate that culture and mythology?

KS: I was hanging out in the occult aisle of my local Barnes and Noble's and I picked it up and flipped through the pages. It looked very interesting, so I said, why not? I'll take it home and see what's in here.

WC: Are all the lyrics taken directly from the ancient scriptures or are they a mix of the authentic with your own words?

KS: Some of them are exclusively from the ancient texts. Some of them, I'll fill in the missing gaps with stuff that's stylistically similar. The ancient Egyptian texts use a highly stylized form of prose. They follow a very specific kind of formula. You can tell when you're reading Nile lyrics because it's exactly like what you'd read in the old texts. They are very incantation-like...not Incantation the band, but the chanting kind of incantation. Occasionally I'll write a song where I'm not drawing directly from the Egyptian texts, but I really like to use the words from the text because it gives more of an authentic vibe. They had a way of saying something that if you used modern words and phrases, it just wouldn't have the same impact.

WC: Within the last 100 years and definitely within the last 20 years, we've created a culture where things are so fast and our attention span is so short, we're almost like a different species than the one that built the pyramids.

KS: You're saying something I really agree with, so please continue...

WC: Back in those days, if they wanted to build a monument or a tomb or change the flow of the Nile, they would think of doing it in terms of generations. Today, if people put a bag of popcorn in the microwave and it isn't popped in 30 seconds, you get irritated.

KS: Even the range of expression in words has shrunk. People take shortcuts in their everyday language and it's gotten to the point, because of the same instantanteous gratification syndrome, that people do not put together thoughts or sentences that have any depth. I really got slammed in the face by this when I saw the remake of the film "True Grit" recently. The language that they employed, they tried to stay faithful to the 19th century speech and it was mind-boggling to see the articulation of thought expressed in clear terms that we just don't have today.

WC: Technology does not seem to be making people more intelligent.

KS: There's a great episode of "Star Trek" where they go to this one planet where they have thralls..."The Gamesters of Triskelion". The surface has been devastated by a holocaust and because people are so dependent on technology, they no longer remembered how to do anything. They didn't even have bodies anymore, they were just brains! Technology had taken them to such a highly evolved state that they no longer had the ability to do simple other words, they devolved instead of evolved. Well, I think about this all the time. What would would happen if Iran decides to level Israel and it triggers a nuclear war and all of a sudden, we don't have electricity and nobody's coming to death metal shows anymore because there ARE no death metal shows!!!

WC: Maybe it might be beneficial to be knocked back 100 or 150 years, so people can learn how to think and do research instead of looking up everything on Google.

KS: Let me tell you how bad it's got, dude. I've got a teenage son and when he was 9 years old, he'd ask me a question and I'd say, I don't really know the answer to that incredibly complex question, son. Why don't you just go Google it? Back when he was that young, that's just what he'd do, but now, it's not even worth his time to walk over to the computer and pop in whatever term into the Google search engine and wait 9/1000's of a second to get all the information of the world at his fingertips! It's not even worth his time!

WC: Most people couldn't even think of the words to put in the search box...(laughter)

KS: One thing I always do when I work on Nile lyrics, is I take the title of the song and put it into the search engine just to see what comes up related to that topic. You would be surprised, my friend, at what the fuck happens to my songs after opening that Pandora's box!

WC: Do you have any further plans for your solo ambient work?

KS: Everybody's been asking me that. I've really devoted myself exclusively to this last Nile record for the last ten months. Longer than that, really, because I started in May of 2011. So now that it's finally fucking done, I think it's time to start working on the next "Saurian" project, I really do.

WC: Any ideas yet or is it too early?

KS: Well, I was in Indonesia recently and thinking about a concept. Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous place. All the populations are jammed into these super overcrowded cities...holy smokes! While I was there, I got the idea that humanity is only inches away from behaving like cockroaches.

WC: I grew up as a kid in the 70's and remember all those dystopian movies like "Soylent Green"...

KS: I love "Soylent Green". I've got a copy of it and played it for my wife just last week!

WC: ...and "Rollerball"...

KS: The original "Rollerball"! With James Caan! What a fantastic movie! And the book...did you ever read the book?

WC: No, I never did. The thing is, most of what was in those movies has already come to pass...or if they haven't, they soon will. Concerning "Rollerball", if you replaced rollerball with "American Idol", you've got the same concept. Something to distract people from how they're getting screwed...brainless entertainment.

KS: Yup, yup. You're so right. We are already actually living in a police state.  They've already passed into law that any American citizen can be detained indefinitely without a charge.  That's part of our package of "anti-terrorist" laws.

WC: Some of the smaller courts are challenging that law, but there's no doubt that powerful forces want it to pass.

KS: Where you think all the 99%ers are gonna go? They're not going to be occupying Wallstreet or Washington or New York City...they're gonna be in camps, dude! By this time next year!

WC: The U.S. has 5% of the population in the world but 25% of the prisoners. It's a prison-based economy. Well, moving back to the musical side of things, what are the high and low points of Nile over the years?

KS: I'd say the low point was losing our original drummer Pete Hammoura. It was a heart-breaking kind of thing.

WC: How's he doing these days?

KS: He's doing OK. He's got a kind of rock' roll band's down and dirty, with a bluesy feel and a real hard edge.  It's definitely not death metal, but it's really fucking cool.

WC: He just can't do blast beats anymore, right?

KS: You know, he injured his shoulder years ago because of the blast beats. He's healed up now, but now it's just a question of, does he want to do it anymore?
To play drums like that, you have to want to do it. Ten years time is plenty of time to heal but if you don't play death metal drums everyday, you can't do it. It's like an Olympic style sport, as far as drumming is concerned.

WC: Absolutely. It's one of the most strenuous physical exertions you can do.

KS: Yup.

WC: What would you say the high point is?

KS: Let's see. A high point for me would be finishing the new record. But another big one for me would be Wacken 2003. We got the slot right before Slayer so we had absolutely the perfect crowd. There were 40,000 people there that night and it was magical. Holy shit! It was a definite high point.

WC: If you could have dinner with any three people from history, who would they be?

KS: Wow! That is a fascinating question! I've actually thought about something similar and I've already got a short list. Samuel Clemens...Mr. Mark Twain. I think he would be a fabulous dinner quest. Alexander the Great...I'd love to hear his take on personal motivation. That dude accomplished more in his short 30 years than anybody. Come on...he's the only guy who actually managed to take over the world. I remember my kid asking me when he was six years old...daddy, has anyone actually taken over the world? Well...did he actually do that? He sure came close!

WC: Nobody has actually conquered all the continents. But considering his age, he certainly accomplished more than any other human being.  How about the third guy?

KS: I think I'd have to go with somebody to keep it light-hearted, so I'd pick either William Shatner or Charlton Heston.

WC: That's a pretty interesting group!

KS: I think it would be a very interesting flow of conversation. A lot of different elements to keep us entertained!

WC: What was the last CD you got just because you wanted to hear it?

KS: You really wanna know? It was a James Brown remaster from the 20th Century Masters...the James Brown Millenium collection.

WC: That's the Pharaoh of Funk...

KS: I've really become enamored of music made before the age of computers. Nowadays, people make records based on the possiibilities of the digital audio workstation, which often sounds wonderful but bands rarely live up to it live.

WC:That's even if they have an actual musician playing live, instead of a backing track.

KS: Right. Back in the old days, people actually had to play and sing well. I'm also a big fan of Earth,Wind and Fire. You listen to those old records, there are some incredible arrangements and all those guys could play with most exquisite hear things differently. You hear the heart and the hear the actual performance. The ability to execute those pieces and make them musical, that's fucking mind-blowing!

WC: In the long career of Nile, is there any kind of Spinal Tap moment you could share with the readers?

KS: Well, you know, there is one overriding reason that Spinal Tap is such a wonderful movie and that's that anybody who has ever played in a band can identify with every single scene in that movie. It has happened to them at one point or another. Every single one of those  scenes. Dude, there's not a day that goes by on tour where if you see how close things are to "Spinal Tap", you would cry. Thankfully, ignorance is bliss and to carry on with a tour, you don't have to self-examine and just have to get up there and fucking play! I'm telling you, there is nothing sacred anymore, I'm telling you.

WC: Any final message for the faithful?

KS: We put a lot of work into this new Nile record. It's an incredible achievement in terms of production. Some people may appreciate that, others may not. We really put a lot of love and hard work into developing as musicians and creating compositions that are new and challenging to us. Hopefully, listeners will dig it, too!