So far the year 2013 has been a standout for those who live with the slime and take pleasure in the torture and torment of death metal. Legends have returned from exile to reclaim their crown; the scab-encrusted underbelly continues to thrive with exciting bands blistering and bursting into consciousness; and whether your taste lies in the technical flair or the dank bludgeon that rests at each end of the genre’s gruesome spectrum, there have been plenty of albums this year to quench your blood-thirst. But like any genre, death metal’s popularity and overall quality tends to come in cycles, and there is no doubting that the genre is, creatively speaking, in rude health right now; above and below the underground, from Carcass to Bone Sickness.
When it comes to live death metal in Ireland, there has always been a dedicated fan-base to support the bands who make the effort to visit our fair isle. The numbers in attendance generally tend to vary, however, depending on the state of the current financial climate, the weather, which is usually a grey depression, and the day of the week. Dublin Metal Events continues to fight the good fight regardless of the conditions, and tonight it hosts the return to Ireland of Nile, with Ex Deo and Svart Crown in support.
A damp, murky evening greets those who have gathered at Dublin’s The Button Factory at the early hour of 6.00 pm. And as mild summer slowly passes into an autumnal chill, the confines of this warm venue, which has been worryingly downsized tonight, makes for a hospitable shelter from the elements. Unfortunately for Svart Crown, who make their Irish debut tonight, there are only a handful of people on hand to witness their Gallic slant on death metal. This does not stop the French four-piece in any way, and their showmanship and syncopated grooves worthy of a lazy comparison to compatriots Gojira give the impression that this band has a healthy future ahead.
Luckily for Ex Deo, the passage of time has resulted in more bodies lurking around the venue. With their Roman-inspired backdrop in place, Ex Deo’s very own Romulus, Maurizio Iacono (also of Kataklysm) leads his band, who are all kitted out in full Roman warrior regalia, into battle. There is an unintentionally humorous aspect to Ex Deo’s live show and general shtick, with Iacono freezing to the spot and holding a stance whenever the music stops, and his desire to drop to his knees with his back to the crowd while striking poses causes more than a few chuckles. Musically Ex Deo deliver a selection of songs that are more about metallic weight than sheer death metal technicality, and in that respect Ex Deo provide a worthy warm up to Nile, even if their get-up makes Manowar look conservative.
On record, Nile’s music sounds like it has been summoned by the Gods themselves — it is dense, merciless, and inhuman. Live, Nile’s shows are known to be unpredictable, depending entirely on the ability of the venue to tame the force of the band’s blitzkrieg and convey clarity through its speakers; a criticism that should be aimed at the venue rather than the band. And strangely, snipes have also been shot about because each member of Nile usually remains rooted to the spot throughout the gig. But what do you expect from guys who play music that requires supreme precision and carpal-tunnel inducing technique? This isn’t a sloppy three-chord punk band. This is technical death metal at its oppressive best; frills free – except for the odd sphinx.
Tonight the sound is superb, and from the moment the introductory piece, “Dusk Falls Upon the Temple of the Serpent on the Mount of Sunrise”, resides to reveal “Sacrifice Unto Sebek”, taken from the spite and fury of 2005’s Annihilation of the Wicked, Nile are relentless in their Ithyphallic onslaught. Joining guitarist/vocalist Karl Sanders, his song-writing partner Dallas Toler-Wade (guitars/vocals), and drum-demigod George Kollias is newish bassist Todd Ellis, who really gives his all on stage. Ellis headbangs and windmills like a young Jason Newsted, and his enthusiasm and pitched roar seem to have given Sanders and Wade a youthful shot of adrenaline. Their fret-burnin’ guitar skills, searing lead work, and growls from the abyss set alight the likes of “Kafir!” and “The Blessed Dead”; the former’s chant-along vocal refrains goes down a storm with the crowd early on.
With their triumvirate of sacrosanct texts – Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka (1998), Black Seeds of Vengeance (2000), and In Their Darkened Shrines (2002) – Nile were one of the few bands responsible for death metal’s survival during its lowest ebb at the tail end of the ‘90s. They took the tenets of the genre, increased the already high levels of musicality that death metal was known for, and applied a fresh thematic base focused on founding member Karl Sanders’studies of Egyptology. Nile haven’t strayed too far from this early modus operandi, but judging by the reception afforded to the trio of songs taken from their latest album At The Gate of Sethu – “Enduring the Eternal Molestation of Flame”, “The Inevitable Degradation of Flesh” and “Supreme Humanism of Megalomania” – the South Carolina natives continue to appease their fans 20 years on since their formation.
This trio of new songs translate extremely well in a live setting because of subtle hooks and they stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the chosen tracks tonight, which span Nile’s entire discography. The band reaches back to their 1998 debut to pry open the catacombs for a crude rendition of “The Howling of the Jinn”.“Sacrophagus” remains resolute as a suffocating Nile anthem, while the truly epic “Unas Slayer of the Gods”, performed in its entirety, is still one of the most ambitious death metal songs ever to be written.
After being cajoled by the crowd throughout the night to play “Lashed to the Slave Stick”, Nile succumb in the end and unleash an impromptu skull crushing with Kollias’ attack in full flight, and what is the catchiest song in Nile’s back catalogue receives the best reaction of the night. And as the final chants of “Black Seeds of Vengeance” bring the night to a close, Nile’s position as one of death metal’s elite remains unchallenged. Worryingly though, the low numbers in attendance on this Friday the 13th in September are a cause for concern for supporters and promoters of metal in Ireland. The reason for poor ticket sales remains unknown, but in order to entice bands the stature of Nile back to our shores, Irish metal fans need to make a greater effort to show support, lest the giants of the genre refuse to return to this jagged shoreline of ours.