So much of What Should Not Be Unearthed is just treading water.
When do we allow a band to simply rest on its laurels? How many great years and great albums must be made before a group of musicians can kick back on their previous work. “Rest” or “kick back” probably isn’t the best ways to describe Nile’s output. This is, after all, one of the most punishingly technical death metal bands in the business, a product of both mind-bendingly complex metal and their southern heritage (in Greensville, South Carolina). Unlike other southerners like Eyehategod, Nile was always fascinated by the pure brutality that came from technicality. They generally refused the sludgy, dirt-encrusted work of their fellow metal bands below the Mason-Dixon line and it served them well. For over two decades, the band has chugged along, birthing two truly excellent albums in the early-to-mid 2000s with In Their Darkened Shrines and Annihilation of the Wicked. It goes without saying, but it ain’t all sunshine and rainbows at the Nile camp.
What Should Not Be Unearthed (as cheery as ever, y’all), follows in the same path forged by its elder brothers: skull crushing riffs, harsh vocal takes and brain popping drum fills, all filtered through a mystic and fatalist lens. However, at this point, it’s all a bit too predictable. Every breakdown, sudden shift in dynamics, or throaty growl can be guess a few seconds before it rushes in. Nile have nailed down their style so well that it seems impossible for them to try anything different. It’s undoubtedly brutal, but it’s also stale.
Thing start off with a certain promise with “Call to Destruction.” There’s something cathartic about Karl Sanders howling the title to kick of the album over a surprisingly bouncy groove, something that’s sure to create mosh-pit upon mosh-pit at this year’s Summer Slaughter fest. “Negating The Abominable Coils of Apep,” the following track, also finds an interesting space with its nearly off-tempo rhythm (thanks to a puzzlingly great performance from George Kollias). It does occasionally devolve into a wall of blackened noise, but the sudden shifts into a slow-mo guitar riff are welcome breaks and even more menacing than the straightforward rampage.
Nile might not want to admit it, but they’re at their best when they’re at their most punk. Prog doesn’t work well for these slices of violence; they become bloated when they stretch out and a sort of hedonistic quality takes over. This is especially true on “In the Name of Amun,” which has an overlong guitar solo that seems to have been placed in the song because…well…it’s a metal album, so there need to be solos, right? The trio of six-minute long songs all suffer from the same fate as “Amun:” the ideas are great, but there’s no reason for them to go on for so long. Considering these are meant to be the centerpieces, it feels disappointing to hear them sounding so lost and unnecessary.
There are some nice surprises here, like the sudden trips into near-grindcore territory and the instrumental interlude “Ushabti Reanimator” which screams like something ripped out of that new Green Inferno flick, but so much of What Should Not Be Unearthed is just treading water, waiting for the next circle pit to break out or the next drum solo to start.