Annihilation of the Wicked
n a way, writing about metal is easier than writing about pop music, and often much more fun. Unlike other genres (hip hop, indie rock, anything with "post-" as a prefix), metal has little chance of becoming "important" in the public eye. Importance stays mostly within the metal community, and is based solely on one factor: ass-kickingness. Thus, metal reviews can usually dispense with lengthy interpretations of lyrics, as well as words like "ennui" and "afterglow." There's no ennui here, and there's sure as hell no afterglow. Nile's Annihilation of the Wicked kicks ass, plain and simple. Plus, it's good for you (read on).
Since day one, Nile have played brutal, Egyptian-flavored death metal. Metal bands have dabbled in Egyptian imagery (Iron Maiden's "Powerslave," the video for Slayer's "Seasons in the Abyss"), but Nile is a group whose every song is about ancient Egypt. They emerged fully-formed on their 1998 debut full-length, Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka, which combined Morbid Angel-style death metal with tribal chants, traditional Middle Eastern instrumentation, and occasional lyrics sung in Egyptian. Black Seeds of Vengeance and In Their Darkened Shrines refined the formula, increasing both the speed and scale of sound. Not only did the latter album set land speed records, it closed with an epic four-part suite that seemed to epitomize Nile's singular vision. Where would the band go next?
Annihilation of the Wicked, ironically, tones down the Egyptian vibe a little, and focuses on the death metal aspect. The result is less epic but more visceral than before. After a placid opening instrumental, "Cast Down the Heretic" drops like all-out war. Guitars churn, drums machine-gun, and one ducks for cover as screaming solos rain down from above. Just when things might get too much, the band drops into a half-time dirge anchored by helicopter-esque bass drums. Then, out of nowhere, a ride cymbal sounds the alarm, and the assault begins anew. Forty seconds later, the song ends, the listener spent yet happy, and the drummer, well, more spent. This is the type of jam that makes even the meekest go, "Fuck it," and jump into the moshpit.
And that's just the first song proper. Nile's trademark acoustic and ambient bits are present, but instead of being mixed with death metal like before, they serve mostly as interludes between bouts of ass-kicking. The electric guitars retain plenty of Egyptian flavor, though, and the songwriting and musicianship are tighter than ever. For the first time in their career, Nile actually sound heavy, no mean feat considering that drums and riffs are often flying by at 250 beats per minute. This is mainly due to the production of Neil Kernon, who did a similarly fine job on Cannibal Corpse's The Wretched Spawn. The sound is clear and massive, and the sinuous yet biting guitar tones bring to mind Metallica's …And Justice For All, if that album were recorded properly and actually had low end.
Then there are the liner notes.
By themselves, the lyrics aren't much ("Sebek, Sochet, Suchos / Dread lord of the marsh / He who crawleth amongst the sacred waters / And devoureth the flesh of that which is sacrificed unto him," etc.) Combine the heavy Egyptology with growled death metal vocals, and the lyrics are impenetrable. But each song's lyrics are accompanied by an essay explaining the meaning and history behind the lyrics. For example, for "Sacrifice Unto Sebek," we learn that Sebek was the main crocodile god in ancient Egypt, and that at Sebek's temple, visitors brought the crocodile their food offerings and perhaps human sacrifices as well. Topics for other songs include a pharaoh's attempt to turn Egypt to monotheism, a biography of Ramses the Great, and a discussion of Egyptian torture techniques. The essays are clearly written and roughly match the songs in length. Thus, while being pummeled by blastbeats, one can learn about ancient Egypt. Who would have guessed that death metal could be educational?
If ever there were a case for buying an album and not downloading it, Annihilation of the Wicked would be it. Rarely does a product work on so many levels, from the sound quality to the liner notes to the packaging, which features some of the richest reds ever found on album artwork. In fact, given the intensity of the artwork, there's a strong argument to be made for buying the album on vinyl. The liner notes to "The Burning Pits of the Duat" say that the song's underworld imagery called for "riffs so fast, chopping, and iniquitous as to musically capture the sensation of being consumed in pits of fire." It's safe to say that a 128 kbps MP3 wouldn't exactly do that justice.