There were a lot of things where I went, “Wait a minute. . . that’s cool but since George is doing this, I can do that” and then you have something new. Something you’ve never played before, never expected – it’s like a gift from the metal gods, going “Here, here’s your reward for working hard and making sacrifices.” It’s hard to make that leap of faith, like in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where he has to take that first step. It’s a test of faith but when you actually make it, it’s like “Well that was easy.” All you have to do is have a little faith and in this case, the faith is in your bandmates.
There are bands who have become metal legends by virtue of being there since the beginning, birthing a genre that inspired countless more and drove them to create albums that inspire awe and envy. Then there are the standard-bearing, those that kept the spirit alive as the gods they worshipped retire into obscurity or disgust. And then there’s Nile. When Amongst the Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka surfaced in the late 90s, it felt revelatory – a slice of old-school death metal with enough personality and depth that it existed within its own sphere of influence, and with each album since they have further refined and tempered that sphere. Now on album number nine, Vile Nilotic Rites feels like the work of a band come full circle, still doing what only the can but with the renewed energy of a band starting afresh. David Bowes met up with guitarist Karl Sanders before their Glasgow show to discuss the creation of a difficult and rewarding release for all involved.
E&D: Thanks for giving us your time again, it’s always appreciated. How is the tour going?
KS: So far, so good. The shows are nicely attended, the fans look like they’re having fun. . . I’m happy.
E&D: How’s the new material been going down thus far?
KS: The last two weeks, since more people have heard at least one of the new songs, it’s been going really well. The first day or two of the tour, people were going, “Huh?” and really, really listening but last night I saw a really nice pit going for ‘Snake Pit Mating Frenzy’, a lot of headbanging to ‘Long Shadows of Dread’ – that big middle section, the big doomy riff, that was great. Also, moshing for ‘Vile Nilotic Rites’ as well.
E&D: I’ve been loving the new album – it sounds very fresh, if that makes sense?
KS: Oh, absolutely!
E&D: It has a similar energy to Catacombs… Does it feel like a step forward for you?
KS: Someone else called it a rebirth and we kind of feel that way too. There’s a great attitude in the band, we have everybody working together, everybody is happy and contributing. I can’t underestimate the importance of having everybody work together instead of against each other.
E&D: Did you still handle the lyrics by yourself?
KS: I still do them but everyone contributes to the music.
E&D: From the press release, it sounded like you were very exacting in terms of what was kept on the album. Was it frustrating to work in an environment where so much ends up discarded?
KS: It can be heart-breaking. You work really hard on a piece and have great expectations but sometimes greatness is directly proportional to how ruthless you are willing to be with the editing blade. There was even a guitar solo in one of the songs – it was probably the greatest guitar solo Brian had played in all of his life. It was so fucking good that by the time he had finished playing the solo, you had completely forgotten about the song at the beginning, so we had to make to make one of those judgements and Brian showed that he was willing to make the hard sacrifices that are necessary. Do you want your album to be great or do you want your fucking pet guitar solo to be? These are tough things and that’s the mindset that we all took. There were certain riffs that I really liked – they can’t stay. Certain drum beats that George wanted, but if it didn’t work with the song, whatever it was, it has to go.
E&D: George was the last person to contribute to the songs, the way you were working, right? You would feed him the completed songs to add the drums to them.
KS: Well, they seemed like complete songs when we give them to him but as he comes back, he has ideas and often it causes us to rethink what we’re doing. That sort of flexibility, we think it’s important and has been lacking in recent years, where this person contributes but it also causes the other elements to adapt and do a new thing. So I wouldn’t call him the last person to contribute. Sometimes, the vocal idea will completely change the drum idea or the guitar idea. There were a lot of things where I went, “Wait a minute. . . that’s cool but since George is doing this, I can do that” and then you have something new. Something you’ve never played before, never expected – it’s like a gift from the metal gods, going “Here, here’s your reward for working hard and making sacrifices.” It’s hard to make that leap of faith, like in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where he has to take that first step. It’s a test of faith but when you actually make it, it’s like “Well that was easy.” All you have to do is have a little faith and in this case, the faith is in your bandmates. You’ve got to be able to trust your bandmates – it seems so simple.
E&D: In terms of your lyrical approach, you’re definitely known for working within specific fields. How is it you approach writing? Is it done in a scholarly way or is it more a sense of being able to find a basic idea and running with it?
KS: I don’t know that I’d call what I do scholarly. Nine times out of ten, I’ll get an idea for a song, reach out to every possible place where I might be able to find something similar and start pulling ideas, see what there is. Any one song is not necessarily pulled from the same thing. There a lot of other things in there, it’s more the way I see it. In that respect, many songs on this record are dealing with the idea of living in end times as seen through the eyes of the common people, of which I see myself. I’m a commoner, I work for a living – I play metal for a living but it’s a job! I wasn’t born with a fucking silver spoon in my mouth, I’ve got to work for everything I’ve got – so I feel the idea of working-class people from all periods of history. So the historical ideas come from events but they’re pulled from the thoughts on someone living within that time as I see it. See, I’ve got a viewpoint of someone who’s living in 2019 which may not exactly parallel with that of someone who was living 3,000, 4,000 years ago. It’s a different world but that’s the interesting part of it.
E&D: Do you still view Nile as being essentially escapist in nature or do you feel more capable of injecting more of yourself into your lyrics?
KS: I still feel like my viewpoint is escapist, even if it is my own viewpoint based on a worldview, because I’m saying this world is going to end, doom is upon us but it’s till escapism as it’s entertainment. It’s not a scholarly field. You couldn’t put on a Nile record and say, “Well that’s school. Where’s my degree?” No, this is entertainment – entertaining people with metal. This is what metal people like, this is what their entertainment consists of – banging heads, listening to metal songs, moshing; you know, doing metal things to a metal soundtrack. That’s kind of what we are – a soundtrack, but a metal one.
E&D: Has that always been your view of what metal is, even when you were growing up and just discovering it?
KS: It’s an older perspective. When I was 20 years old, metal was everything. It was all-encompassing. I didn’t necessarily think about the philosophy that lies underneath it or the role that it fills in our lives because I was just being metal 24/7. Who cares about the why when you’re doing it? When you’re playing or you’re fucking, you mostly don’t think about ‘why’ – you’re just doing. As you get a little older, the ‘why’ of things start to matter a little more.
E&D: Do you still work as a guitar teacher?
E&D: Did taking that on as a role change how you viewed playing or composing? Could you take it on more analytically, especially given the complexity of your music?
KS: They say in martial arts that you really don’t learn until you start to teach because when you have to explain it to someone who doesn’t understand it yet, when you have to find the words to explain these things you are actually cementing the ideas and finding the true meaning of what it is within yourself. It’s crazy how it works. The act of teaching is also learning.
What’s the most important thing you learned, then?
KS: There are a lot of motherfuckers who are self-deluded and wasting their time, that would be one of the top things.
E&D: On to familiar topics – do you have any interest in, or experience with, the ‘alternative’ views about Egypt? Ancient Aliens and the like.
KS: Well, the things on that show ‘Ancient Aliens’, not so much but my viewpoint is that I think we’re the aliens. I think we came from somewhere else and I also think that civilisation has destroyed itself several times over already. So, when people are talking about ancient aliens, I think it’s really just us.
E&D: In terms of your own interest in Egypt itself, when were you first exposed to it?
KS: As a kid, watching movies. The interest really deepened when I started writing songs for Nile and I had to do research so I could write songs, and then the interest just spiralled.
E&D: So what do you feel have been the best and worst depictions of Egypt that you’ve seen?
KS: Every Hollywood movie. The best depiction of Egypt was actually seeing it for myself because no movie, no pictures you see on the internet, really does it justice.
E&D: Do you still consider the band to have any influences or do you just exist within your own sphere now?
KS: I understand what you’re asking… I like to think of it as we have our own sphere but we’re still open to influence from any number of things. I particularly like movie soundtracks and you will hear a lot of them in Nile music. Just little snippets here and there and if you really listen to it you can pick them out.
E&D: Any interest in going back to doing any solo work?
KS: Yeah. This last Nile record consumed two years of my life so now that it’s finally done I’m hoping that I will find the time to work on solo stuff.
E&D: Have you done any soundtrack work, or have you considered it?
KS: Some of my work has been used in a few small, independent things, a few game soundtracks as well but I haven’t actually pursued doing any film work yet. George thinks I need to go ahead and start doing it but there’s only so many hours in the day.
E&D: What would you like to work on – documentaries?
KS: Documentaries would be fun. You have a little bit of a freer hand. Sure – I’d love to.
E&D: For anyone who’s yet to see you live – what can be expected?
KS: We’re going to play some metal songs. We’re going to bang our heads, we’re going to make some metal.
E&D: Your setlist seems incredibly varied, like you’ve tried to take something from absolutely every moment of your career. Is it important to have that breadth for the fans?
KS: Of course you want to represent our whole career. I know that everyone has their favourite Nile records. I’ve seen it all and what I’ve figured out is, people like whatever it is that they’re going to like, and there is no best. It’s the one that you like, and that’s okay. We think that this record has songs that mean something to us and so we’re happy to play them.
E&D: How would you describe the band’s dynamic now?
KS: This is the most cohesive it’s been since Catacombs‘ days. We have people working together instead of working against each. We’re all happy, everyone is contributing and working hard – we’re pretty happy, from I can tell.
Nile’s Vile Nilotic Rites was released on November 1, 2019