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Nile 

Friday, October 17; Pop's

Death metal, even for the most devoted metal-heads, can be a tough listen. It's not enough to get past the whole gore 'n' guts motif -- the guttural vocals are obscenely ludicrous and the songs typically follow the pattern of slow "tuned-down-to-Satan" riffs interlaced with blast beats and lame B-movie dialogue samples, making it difficult to take the genre seriously. And it doesn't help that most of it is entirely unlistenable. To stick out from the pack, a death-metal band must not only be technically proficient, but they must have a good shtick.

When it comes to technical ability, Nile has barge-loads. Drummer Tony Laureano still finds a way to add subtle percussion flourishes even while whipping out dead-on blast beats. Dallas Toller-Wade and Karl Sanders's guitars are tastefully brutal, full of their trademark Middle Eastern tones and solos that never bore. Embracing sonic variety, Nile doesn't flinch at using acoustic guitars or computers, and their three-singer vocal assault is relentless. The crisp production of their newest album, In Their Darkened Shrines, is surprisingly warm, and the record is replete with dazzling song structures -- "Unas, Slayer of the Gods," stretches well over eleven minutes with several hieroglyphically complex parts. Everything about Nile is epic, even the content of their songs. And that's primarily where the shtick comes in: Nile has an obsession with ancient Egypt that one would only expect from academics, not metal dudes. Whether it's a mini-dissertation on H.P. Lovecraft or a history cycle of a forgotten Egyptian war god, they deliver erudite lyrics that tower well above puerile tales of chainsaw massacre or ritual killings.

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