Long-running metal band still gets heads banging, helps brains grow on latest album

“Call to Destruction,” the first track on long-running South Carolina metal band Nile's most recent album, What Should Not Be Unearthed, opens like a direct kick to the throat, thrashing guitars, graveled vocals and limb-exhausting drums bolting out of the gate in a breathless, thundering rush.

“It's an undiluted opening salvo of brutal intent,” said singer/guitarist Karl Sanders, a founding member of the band, and the only one still in the lineup from its 1993 formation. “This age we live in, attention spans are really fucking short, so we're like, ‘All right, we're going to serve notice in the first couple seconds. No question about it, this is time for brutality.'”

This is a marked shift from the band's previous recording, At the Gate of Sethu, from 2012, which favored cleaner dynamics and comparatively complex, highly technical passages.

“I think there was, from some fans, a backlash, because it wasn't putting the heaviness and brutality first; it was putting the musicianship first,” said Sanders, 53, who joins his bandmates in opening for Overkill at Park Street Saloon on Thursday, Feb. 16. “I see what people were talking about, because the emotional content comes across to people more than the technical this or technical that. Really, in the end, does it matter how technical it is? What matters is, ‘Did it have the spirit? Did it make you feel like banging your head?'”

While Nile albums can certainly inspire this desired physical response, Sanders' approach to lyric writing also allows for deeper thought, offering a chance for brains to grow rather than simply slosh back and forth in the skull, should listeners desire it. Songs are steeped in Egyptian history and culture, and the frontman approaches lyrics with a historian's eye for detail, piling in references to deities, forgotten landmarks and ancient rulers. Witness “In the Name of Amun,” which takes its title from the Egyptian god, or “Ushabti Reanimator,” a moody instrumental named for an Egyptian funerary figurine that comes on like a graveyard parade.

“I think sometime around '93 or so, I woke up and realized I had been in a band called Nile for a few months. ‘What would I want to hear from a band called Nile?' I decided if I was going to write lyrics for a band called Nile, I needed to study up on it,” said Sanders, who was born to a computer engineer father and an accountant mother and started playing guitar at age 9 because the sound of a power chord “struck this resonant thing deep in my soul.” “And the more I read it was like, ‘Somebody should really do this right and have some respect for it.'”