In case you’ve been fermenting in a canopic jar for the past decade: Karl Sanders, founder and main creative force behind death-metal pharaohs Nile, knows as much about Egypt as he does about the art of the shred. Which is to say, a whole fuckload. Sanders tricks out Nile’s lyrics and riffs with ancient Egyptian themes and non-Western modes, and many Nile albums are graced with Sanders’s detailed descriptions of each song’s origin. He’s as pro in his Egyptology as he is in his face-melting.
Since the first official Nile release, Festivals of Atonement (1995), Nile have festooned every album with Arabian-sounding intros and interludes. As part of a Nile album, the mystic chanting and war-god percussion of these vestigial tracks serve two vital functions. They break up the relentless blasting of Nile’s unmatched death-metal extremity and elevate it into an even more extreme form of grand theater. Preceded by creepy exorcism chants and processional gong hits, Nile’s guitars become the repeated lashes of a sadistic taskmaster, their guttural vocals the admonishments of spiteful gods.
On Saurian Exorcisms, the second solo tributary to divert from the mighty Nile, Sanders drops the distortion, picks up his trusty baglama saz, and lets his inner Egyptian priest take charge for a whole album’s worth of incense and snake dancing. Save for a couple ripping nylon-string leads and the Morbid Angel-referencing “A Most Effective Exorcism Against Azagthoth and his Emissaries,” any connection with death metal has been completely extinguished.
As two-dimensionally exotic as the album can be, Sanders is clearly competent at this stuff. The spare male chanting on “Slavery Unto Nitokris” and Gamelan-style percussion on “Kali Ma” evoke ancient horrors and skin-crawling moods. With the exception of a few vocal sections, performed by longtime Nile collaborator Mike Breazeale, Sanders plays everything here, sacrificing his own virtuosity at the altar of atmosphere.
The question remains: Why? Saurian Exorcisms surely ain’t death metal, and Sanders himself has admitted that he’s not going for musicological authenticity, which might give the album some merit in world music circles. Each track’s repetitive nature seems more functional than listenable on its own. Got a bustling market scene in your low-budget Aladdin remake? Use “Rapture of the Empty Spaces.” Need music to underpin the final level of an Egyptian-themed first-person shooter? “Impalement and Crucifixion of the Last Remnants of the Pre-Human Serpent Volk” will do the trick.
Any production music library would be proud to have Saurian Exorcisms in its catalog, but beyond that, the album struggles for context. Sanders’s soundscapes are the perfect foil for Nile’s hyperblasting. By themselves, they work better as background music for failed sexual conquests.