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Amongst The Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka

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Amongst The Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka
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Type: Full-Length
Release Date: April 28th, 1998
Genre: Death, Technical
1. Smashing The Antiu
2. Barra Edinazzu
3. Kudurru Maglu
4. Serpent Headed Mask
5. Ramses Bringer Of War
6. Stones Of Sorrow
7. Die Rache Krieg Lied Der Assyriche
8. The Howling Of The Jinn
9. Pestilence And Iniquity
10. Opening Of The Mouth
12. Beneath Eternal Oceans Of Sand


Review by Nathan on December 5, 2021.

The late 90s weren’t hallmark years for death metal, but the further the style gets buried underground, the more obtuse mutations that spring forth, and Nile’s Egyptian-tinged brutal death metal was one such niche that was discovered. It seems like they were genuinely the first band to have the idea (if I’m wrong, please let me know about all the other Egyptian themed death metal bands that formed in the mid-90s), and one gets the sense that Karl Sanders was holstering the idea for a while until he found the right artists to execute his vision, being 30 years old at the time of Nile’s formation. Amongst The Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka is stunningly developed for a debut, while still having a certain vitality and freshness to the non-metal influences. It sounds like the band is still excited they came upon this genre fusion - they’re realizing they can go in all sorts of different directions with it, playing to find which ones fit.

There is a lack of cohesion throughout this entire album that can be chalked up to the experimental, fling-shit-at-a-wall approach first albums often take, especially ones that are trying to incorporate something unique. On Amongst The Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka, The Egyptian themes aren’t fully intertwined with the riffs yet. More of the thrashy Morbid Angel influences drive the early Deeds Of Flesh styled grinding brutality. Songs such as 'Die Rache Krieg Lied Der Assyriche' and the intro of 'Ramses Bringer Of War' are where the majority of the gimmick is felt, while the forays into the Middle Eastern scales while the death metal is playing feeling like the band is dipping their toes into the Nile (cue collective eye roll) rather than diving in. It’s more of a choral effect here, a sudden pause for an archaic scream, or a jarring shift into a tribal rhythm rather than its presence being a foreground feature.

However, even with some inconsistencies and uneven-ness, Amongst The Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka holds up a lot better than the rest of the band’s early material. It might be the only Nile album where you can analyze the riffs in isolation from Karl’s constant dorking out. The fretboard-wandering leads that are now a staple are mere fragments of ideas here, so you’re actually capable of focusing on the meat - and this album is meaty. Pete Hammoura may be the least technical drummer this band has had (it’s a high bar to clear, to be fair), but his approach is what helps the riffs stick. You can tell he honed his craft in the 80s, because there’s more thrashy steadiness to his speed and a lot fewer fills. His straightforwardness elevates the already-solid riffs, giving them a punch that hits your reptilian brain, and he’s still got substantial chops and a good feel for Sanders’ playing style, having jammed with him for 15 years at this point.

The more adventurous leads tend to be hidden in the transitions or at the back end of songs in the climax, The only time they really have a bit of back-and-forth is on 'Beneath Eternal Oceans Of Sand', the closing track, where an acoustic melody flows into, and bridges segments of that god damn slow song that Nile has to have on every fucking album. At least they kept it short this time around, and there’s actually a payoff riff. Before Nile leaned into their gimmicks to the point where the actual listenability of a song becomes meaningless, they understood the importance of writing a proper build-and-release to underline and support their exploration of different modes of death metal. In a sentence, they hadn’t forgotten how to write songs yet!

Amongst The Catacombs… has a succinctness to it at 33 minutes, giving just enough time for the various features of the music a chance to sink in without them overstaying their welcome. Because this doesn’t spend time dicking around and grounds the riffs with steady tremolo as opposed to bloating them with guitar noodles, the songs have something else going on that draws you in other than the “Ithyphallic metal” shtick. Solid album with a lot of promise. It’s unfortunate they chose to amplify the worst aspects of their music on the next two albums, but that’s for another review...

Rating: 7.7 out of 10

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Review by Allan on April 3, 2002.

In 1998 after a couple EP’s, Nile put out their debut album, “Amongst The Catacombs of Nephren-Ka”. After one album Nile was already a highlight in the scene, showing that there was still something new to bring to the table. Nile is often considered by some as the future of death metal. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but if it is we are all going to enjoy it.

Moving through eleven songs, “Amongst The Catacombs of Nephren-Ka” is a death metal assault with an Egyptian flavor. There are a few differences between this album and the bands follow up, “Blackseeds of Vengeance”, that I should mention. This album is definitely a lot more groove orientated. On this album also, the band strived to reach an atmosphere that would reflect their Egyptian influences. In my opinion, they didn’t quite reach the atmosphere they were striving for. They did get an atmosphere that worked, but it wasn’t what they were looking. Fortunately, this was all solved on the next release.

The musicianship is brilliant. Besides the obvious drums, vocals, guitars, bass approach, the band also brought in many interesting instruments. This includes choirs, human skull drums, bone flutes, Turkish gongs, etc. Drummer Pete Hammoura is amazing. He plays fast enough to fit the music, keeps the members together well, and uses enough variation to make him a standout drummer. Guitarist Karl Sanders does an astounding job. Awesome death metal riffs followed by solos at breakneck speed really fit the music well. Vocalist/Bassist Chief Spires does a creditable job. His death vocals have something about them that make them more noticeable. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, but I like him more than most others. Overall, an excellent lineup and they do a great job.

The songs on this album are all very well outlined. Not only are they all different from each other, they’re all good. The album starts off with ‘Smashing The Antiu’, the hardest of all the tracks for me to get into. It took a few listens before it sank in. It’s quite complex and chaotic, as are all the songs on the album. 'Serpent Headed Mask' is a well-orchestrated song varying between fast playing and slower more atmospheric parts. This is the same as the next track, ‘Ramses Bringer of War’, which starts out with awesome drumming. ‘Die Rache Krieg Lied der Assyriche’ is an excellent interlude between songs, which uses choirs to fit in well with the Egyptian themes. ‘Pestilence and Iniquity’ is extremely well done and very memorable. The closing is awesome as well, and shows the band using a bit of a different approach by using clean guitars and combining it with heavy parts. From beginning to end, this album is full of great listens.

Bottom Line: In the overcrowded death metal scene, it’s great to see a band do something of unique. “Amongst The Catacombs of Nephren-Ka” is a great death metal album that should be heard by all. Whether is up to par with their follow-up is up to the listener.

Categorical Rating Breakdown

Originality: 9
Musicianship: 10
Atmosphere: 7
Production: 7
Overall: 7

Rating: 8 out of 10

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