Part of the Ancient Egyptian text “Book of Gates,” the Gate of Sethu is one of a series of obstacle-strewn passageways the dead must navigate to enter the afterlife. According to the “Tenth Division of the Tuat” the entry is guarded by two knife-wielding mummies, 16 hissing cobras, and the corridors are consumed in flames. We’ve got no idea how a spirit could get by the nasty beasties and reach the next dimension. Then again, we can’t begin to fathom how Nile — a technical death metal group from North Carolina, not Cairo, whose members have no formal background in Egyptian mythology — have produced 20 years’ worth of vicious, complex and immaculately crafted music filled with ancient Egyptian themes and colored deftly with Middle Eastern melodies.
The multi-instrumentalists and vocalists Karl Sanders and Dallas Toller Wade and drummer George Kolias have already proven they can blast with more power than Behemoth, play with more agility than Morbid Angel and roar with the ferocity of Cannibal Corpse. The real accomplishments at this point are how they continue to create captivating, multi-faceted albums without retreading old themes. Sanders is an encyclopedia of Egyptian texts as well as a scholar of the Cthulhu mythos of author H.P. Lovecraft, so there are still plenty of evil deities, harrowing beasts and mental horrors to explore.
Nile have no desire to slow down or soften up, so At the Gate of Sethu doesn’t boast any major musical shifts. But it’s rife with subtleties that separate it from past offerings. The songs are just as intricate, but more compact. Only one, “The Chaining of the Iniquitious,” is more than seven minutes long. There are more melodic guitar hooks, though they never detract from the speed or savagery of the music. Similarly, there are clean vocal chants on “The Fiends Who Come to Steal the Majick of the Deceased” and “The Chaining of the Iniquitous”; the latter ends with orchestral horns and strings that conclude the record in epic fashion. For newcomers drawn to the band by their resemblance to trendier acts such as Behemoth, the record may take several listens, but once absorbed it’s as fantastic and impressive as a spirit that somehow wriggles through an inferno of snakes and demons and to the other side.