Blazing a Trail of Annihilation
CoC chats with Karl Sanders of Nile
by: Jackie Smit
"You're the guy that compared us to Metallica, right?"

It was always going to be an inevitable question. Following a somewhat controversial review of Nile's latest effort, I am now face to face (or earpiece to earpiece, in this case) with Karl Sanders, a man whose new album I likened to _...And Justice for All_. So much for building up a rapport before we get the questions started then. But wait; is that laughter I hear at the other end of the phone?

"That was definitely very interesting. I'm not sure that everyone will agree with it, but it was a unique way of putting things, that's for sure."

Phew.

Unless you've been abducted by Jehovah's Witnesses and forced to listen to nothing but Pat Boone records for the last three months, you'd know of course that _Annihilation of the Wicked_ is a distinctly more ornery beast than its disarmingly polite creator. And with so much media and fan-generated hoopla surrounding the band prior to its recording, you just know that there must have been an inordinate level of pressure and expectation on the band to deliver the goods this time round.

Karl Sanders: I think a lot of pressure got put on us by folks at the label and by the fans, and you're quite right, there were a lot of very high expectations. Certainly from a career point of view, it was a do or die moment, because the album before did really well for us and a lot of people had begun to toss out the idea that we'd never top it and that we had peaked, and that it was going to be all downhill for us from there and all sorts of other stupid crap. So, in a way, we just wanted to get in there and just do our thing and shut people up. We're certainly, we believe, vital, and we have a lot to offer people; and the band is strong, despite some line-up changes. The core of the band is intact and I believe stronger than ever for it.

CoC: Well, it's very clear that you guys are stronger than ever; as I said in my review, the new album is fantastic. I'm just curious -- out of so many great tracks and such a huge leap forward overall, what do you regard as the most accomplished song in hindsight?

KS: Most accomplished, I'd say "Chapter of Obeisance...", just because some of the timing is really progressive, and we managed to pull it off in such a convincing and brutal way. I think that anybody that's really a fan of progressive music that gives it a proper listen would have to own up, because there's some amazing shit going on in that song.

CoC: I think that the main reason why you like it, is because the full track title was somewhat of a pain in the neck for the record label, or so says the word on the street...

KS: <laughs> Well, that much is true. The song title definitely has a tongue in cheek element, but there's some serious playing going on there. You can think up a cool song title, as long as there's some meat and potatoes there.

CoC: Given the success of _In Their Darkened Shrines_ and the fact that Nile's profile was raised significantly by that record, how much more support was there from Relapse this time round?

KS: Um, there's an old saying: "If you want to know the truth, follow the money." And that saying is definitely true, because for the first time with this album, they actually gave us a decent budget, which basically was three times what we had to spend on _In Their Darkened Shrines_. We were able to afford a real producer. We could mix it in a real studio. And I think that the results speak for themselves. Give us the tools and we'll do a proper job.

CoC: I can imagine that this probably gave you guys a lot more freedom to experiment as well.

KS: Not really. Nile's stuff is meticulously crafted and honed before we enter the studio. We like to know what the fuck we're doing. We try to leave a little bit of room just for adaptability's sake, because sometimes you get in there and you see things in a different way. But 99% of what we do has been worked out beforehand; long rehearsals, demo recordings and really just about everything that we can do to be professional about what we're doing.

CoC: I definitely can believe you about those rehearsals, because the level of technicality on this record is astonishing.

KS: We worked like bitches.

CoC: A common consensus on _Annihilation of the Wicked_ is the extent to which you have introduced the Egyptian influences with far more subtlety than before. Was this intentional, or just a natural progression?

KS: A little bit of both. The material, I think, didn't call for as much extraneous instrumentation, and we wanted to keep the focus on the guitars and drums and the savageness of the music. So in some ways for us, it was almost also like (and I hate to say this) going back to basics as a metal band, and we were looking at the components that mean "metal" to us, if you know what I mean. It's like you can't imply the feeling of a Hendrix tortured guitar solo by having Ian Anderson play some flute. They're both wonderful things, but if you want to say: "This is primal and savage", then you have to use primal and savage equipment to express that idea. It is what it is and we wanted it to be a fast, brutal metal album.

CoC: This is the thing: I know that some people have said that _Annihilation of the Wicked_ isn't as heavy as the stuff that you've done previously, but in my opinion it's a much more focused and brutal record, and I really think that Neil Kernon's production adds a tremendous amount of the feel of the album.

KS: I really think that Neil helped us achieve what we wanted to do, and in a wonderful way. He didn't try to change us or overproduce us. He did something that probably only came from his wisdom and his experience, but he just took what we did and made it "hearable". You know, every once in a while he'd have a suggestion like: "Maybe that sounds a little slack", or "Maybe you want to wait before you do that part". It was little things that helped us with achieving what we wanted to do, but he wasn't changing our ideas, and that's the mark of a great producer in my opinion; present the band, record the music in the best possible way, give it a great sound and let everything be heard. The music will work its own magic after that.

CoC: What made you decide on Neil? Because I can imagine that given your higher budget and your status in the extreme scene right now, you would have had several producers scrambling over themselves to be able to work with you.

KS: We really liked Neil's work to start with, and when we talked with him and we realised what kind of person he was to start with, and, you know, his genuine care and appreciation of the band -- we wanted someone who'd believe in us not only because the album would possibly do well, but someone who took us seriously. We wanted someone who believed in death metal as a legitimate art form, which he does. Despite having an illustrious past with three hundred or so albums and a lot of them really legitimate acts -- Queen, Queensryche -- I could sit here for thirty minutes and recite some amazing stuff on his pedigree. But the point is that even though Neil is a legitimate guy with a great history, he still was willing to give us the respect of a legitimate musical form.

CoC: Well, from a personal point of view, I think the work he did on the last Cannibal Corpse album was excellent.

KS: That album was intrinsic in our decision.

CoC: Really? Out of interest sake, what albums had he done that suggested to you that he'd be the man for the job?

KS: _Unleashed in the East_ -- classic record. But the Cannibal Corpse cinched it. That was a record that showed that he could take death metal and make it clear and plain and make it sound good.

CoC: So, I suppose that it's inevitable that we get to the line-up changes at some point in this interview. How did Tony's and Jon's leaving affect the recording and the final product that was this record?

KS: Tony... I would say that his leaving was a blessing because that opened the door for George to come. In the past, Dallas and I would have to write songs using a drum machine and computerized drums, and then pass that on to the band and Tony in particular. With this album we had George right here, because after we had brought him over from Greece, we were keeping him here. <laughs> So, he was right there -- we would give guitars and click-track demos to George in the morning and by afternoon he was in the rehearsal and he'd be bashing it out with ideas of what the drums should sound like. And nine times out of ten, he'd have some very good ideas. It was very rare that Dallas and I would have to say: "Well, George -- put the blast beat there", or whatever. He was right on the money most of the time.

CoC: George for me is an evolution of Tony, in that he has a similar style, but he really attacks the music far more aggressively when he plays, which again, I think, adds a lot to the intensity of this record.

KS: I think some of it is because George was there right from the beginning in the writing process, where previously Tony would always come in when the writing was done. What Tony would do was to take drum tracks that already existed for the songs and throw some pepper into them and some spice and hopefully pump things up a little bit. But George was there right from the get-go, so he had a much better understanding of the ebb and flow and a much better understanding of what we were trying to accomplish. I think that's why there's more of a cohesiveness between the guitars and the drums. It's more streamlined, it's more focused and it really works effectively.

CoC: You've mentioned previously how happy you were to have George joining the band, but I'm curious to know what cinched the deal for him outside of his talent.

KS: Well, I think one of the big things for Dallas and I was that we wanted to see someone who would be willing to do what it really took. We had plenty of people who auditioned, but George learned all of the old drum parts so close that it was almost uncanny. Not only did he do that, he came prepared to go into battle -- he was just ready, and he showed us by his actions what kind of a man he was, and we didn't have any trouble making that decision.

CoC: You mention being prepared to do what it takes -- at the level that Nile operates on at the moment, what sort of effect does that have on your personal life? What kind of commitment does it take from you in terms of putting other things aside?

KS: It's a total commitment. It's in for a penny, in for a pound. I'm in. There's no going back. There's a line in the movie "Falling Down" where Michael Douglas talks about the point of no return, where it's farther to go back then to just go ahead and finish what you've started. Dallas and I are at the point of no return. To go back now and to choose another career would be suicidal, and it would also be a slap in the face to twenty years of hard work and playing metal to get where we are.

CoC: Someone who's at the cusp of starting that journey is Joe Payne, your new bassist. From what I understand though, he isn't a permanent member yet -- what's the status with him right now?

KS: It's still exactly right there. He's doing a fantastic job and I have no real problems with his performance or his talent. The crux of the issue is real simple. He's extremely young and it's just really hard to tell exactly how committed he is. He not only has Nile going, he also has his own project. Then he's playing in Lecherous Nocturne and in Lust of Decay. So he has four bands going on, and for me and Dallas to say that: "OK, you're now an equal member", we have to see equal commitment.

CoC: It must be amazing for him to be playing with a band he has more than likely been a fan of for some time though.

KS: You know, I would have killed for an opportunity like this when I was his age. They didn't exist when I was coming up, playing music in the south. The only thing we had was the cover band circuit, where you could get a lot of work. I mean, you could play five or six times a night and always have a bar to play in, but that's playing other people's music four sets a night. The opportunities to play original music were few and far between.

CoC: As a momentary side note then -- if you were in Joe's position back in the day, what band would you have wanted to join?

KS: <laughs> Wow, we're talking like '81 here. Exodus would have been a fun band to play in. Early Testament would have been cool too.

CoC: You wouldn't have wanted to bring some Nile-esque heaviness into Metallica?

KS: I don't know if I would have gone over with Metallica. I mean, I liked Metallica and they led the way. But I'm a B-side guy. I like everything on the B-side; not necessarily the hit songs. I like the weird songs. With Metallica, it seems like everything they did back then was a hit song.

CoC: One of the biggest recent changes in Nile, from a visual perspective at least, was Dallas stepping up to the plate and taking Jon's place as the front man. Was this something that you and he had discussed prior to it happening, or did you spring it on him as a surprise?

KS: Dallas and I had been talking for quite a while. When Jon first joined the band and was having difficulty with the material, we discussed it then. Dallas has always fronted his own bands, except for Nile, so he had the experience to do it, but at that time a part of what we really needed to accomplish was to kill off the memory of Chief Spires. At that time a lot of people were going: "Without Chief Spires, you're nothing." We knew it was ridiculous, but that's the way stuff goes in metal circles. Jon has a really strong presence, so we spoke among ourselves and came to the consensus that if anyone was going to kill off the memory of Chief Spires, it was going to be Jon, so we decided to stick it through and keep him in the middle and basically do whatever technically we needed to, to help him with his bass playing. So, we'd always had that in the back of our minds, and when Jon started acting very iffy in the rehearsals for this record, we knew that if he punked on us, we wouldn't really have much to worry about. Dallas would move to the middle and we'd be fine.

CoC: I think a lot of people had started to speculate that the front man spot would be taken by Steve Tucker when those rumours started circulating.

KS: No, that wouldn't have happened. He would have been over there on stage left, playing bass. I think it would have been too much for Steve -- not only learning the Nile material, but also having to sing a great deal of it, because it's a lot. People underestimate the amount of work it takes to be able to play those guitar and bass parts and sing at the same time.

CoC: I'm just astounded that Dallas can play the sort of technical guitar riffs that he does, and do vocals when he's on stage.

KS: Dallas is also a drummer, and one thing that a lot of good drummers have is independence, which means that each limb can act independently from the other. It means that this hand is playing at four, this hand is playing at three and the feet are doing one-two-three-four. So each limb is doing something different, and Dallas can do that with his hands and his voice.

CoC: One of your last big tours was with King Diamond, who draws a distinctly different audience to you guys, and in the past you've also done tours with guys like Danzig, which again was a much older crowd than you'd likely be used to. Does Nile relish the prospect of playing in such situations?

KS: I like doing some of it. You know, with King Diamond -- a lot of his fans are guitar player type people, so a lot of people can relate to us through the musicianship angle, which means that there's a prayer. We recently got asked to do a Chimaira tour, and I had trouble seeing us trying to win that crowd over, so I passed on it. Some of it is necessary, because you need to go out and try to win new fans, but I'm always weary of going out to play somewhere where people are going to think that we suck. I mean, I'm not going to walk out into the street and get knocked down by a trolley, am I?

CoC: What was the response like to you on the King Diamond tour?

KS: We did real well. Every night we'd have people come up to us saying things along the lines of: "I didn't ever know who the fuck you were, but what you did tonight was just incredible." So it went well, and I think that we made some new fans, and item B to accomplish was to show people that the stuff on the album -- all the fast and tricky stuff -- was all legitimate and that we could totally fucking do it, as good or better than on the album; every night or consistently.

CoC: While we're on the topic of the live Nile experience, something that I know Nile fans have been begging for for some time is now is a DVD. Have you got any plans for something like this in the near future?

KS: Nope. No, absolutely not. For one thing, they aren't going to give us the money to do it. For two, even if they did, I haven't seen a single live death metal video that doesn't suck.

CoC: One of the biggest compliments which is paid to Nile, in my opinion, is the statement that you have brought back an air of legitimacy and intelligence to death metal. Do you feel that the underground -- from a lyrical point of view in particular -- has perhaps in the past suffered from a lack of intelligence?

KS: I think that we get so much of the same gore / Satanism cannon fodder -- so many bands do it that it's just a matter of inundation and it lowers the common denominators. There are bands that are doing a lot of worthwhile intelligent stuff; we're not alone. But just the sheer numbers of the mediocre tend to give the impression that it's all mediocre.

CoC: So, who would you regard the bands right now that stand alongside Nile in doing something different and worthwhile?

KS: I think that Behemoth is going to be hard to beat in years to come. They have a lot of bases covered, and they're a great band and do great stuff. They have a great image, they have a great stage presence and they're laying foundations all over this globe.

CoC: What's Nile's relationship with Relapse been like so far? I know that _Annihilation of the Wicked_ is the last record that you're contracted to do for them, so are you planning on sticking with them in the future?

KS: Well, our relationship with them so far has been pretty darn good. I can always call them up and they always listen to whatever I have to say. So, I have no real complaints to speak of. But as far as what the future holds -- who the fuck knows?

CoC: I'm sure a lot of labels are going to be after you though.

KS: <laughs> That's something for Nile management. You know, this has been a long time coming. When we first signed that Relapse contract, we were a band from South Carolina who no one knew about, no one cared about, and we were playing niche music; metal with Egyptian lyrics and exotic instrumentation. So who would give a fuck about us? No one. So the contract stipulations that we were able to apply were by no means... We were in no position to be able to really ask for or receive anything, and we knew it. But years down the road, we have busted our asses and we have proved ourselves, so now we're in a better position to hopefully get a fair deal. Hopefully. I won't count my chickens yet, but certainly we were in a better position than we were at a few years ago.

CoC: So what are Nile's plans for the next twelve to eighteen months?

KS: Work like hell. We're going to tour the fuck out of this album, and then we're going to shop around for a deal, and then sooner or later we're going to start writing a new record, which Dallas and George and I are really looking forward to.

CoC: Karl, thanks very much for your time, and I'm really looking forward to seeing you guys on tour very soon.

KS: Thank you and hopefully we'll have the good fortune to meet up in person.

(article submitted 12/8/2005)


CHATS
7/29/2012 P Schwarz Nile: At the Gate of Exhaustion
9/9/2007 J Smit Nile: Luring the Doom Serpent
5/13/2001 P Schwarz Nile: They Couldn't Dam This River...
10/12/1999 P Schwarz /
D Rocher
Nile: Preparing to Again Burst Their Banks
ALBUMS
7/15/2012 D Lake 7.5 Nile - At the Gate of Sethu
11/13/2009 J Smit 9.5 Nile - Those Whom Gods Detest
6/10/2007 J Smit 8.5 Nile - Ithyphallic
5/13/2005 J Smit 9.5 Nile - Annihilation of the Wicked
6/23/2003 J Smit 9 Nile - In Their Darkened Shrines
11/20/2000 P Schwarz 10 Nile - Black Seeds of Vengeance
8/12/2000 P Schwarz 8.5 Nile - In the Beginning
7/8/1998 P Schwarz 9.5 Nile - Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren Ka
GIGS
12/26/2003 J Smit Deicide / Destruction / Nile / Akercocke / Dew-Scented / Graveworm / Misery Index Redemption at the Palace
5/13/2001 D Rocher Nile / The Haunted / Carnal Forge / The Forsaken At the Haunted Gates of Vengeance
3/13/2001 P Schwarz Nile / Sleath / Regorge / Co-Exist The Delta of Death Descends
8/12/1999 D Rocher Six Feet Under / Mayhem / Vader / Enslaved / Cryptopsy / Nile / Thyrfing / Darkseid Facing the Breton Storm Season
8/12/1999 M Noll Six Feet Under / Vader / Enslaved / Cryptopsy / Nile / Thyrfing Pig's Feet and All Things Yummy
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All opinions expressed in Chronicles of Chaos are opinions held at the time of writing by the individuals expressing them.
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