Luring the Doom Serpent
CoC chats with Karl Sanders of Nile
by: Jackie Smit
Like a catastrophic force of nature, the early success enjoyed by _Ithyphallic_ would suggest that Nile's time has finally dawned. With sales comfortably outnumbering that of its predecessor, and a stint on Ozzfest to boot, a decade and a half's toil appears to be paying dividends -- and the band's inimitably colloquial founder, one Karl Sanders esquire, seems amusingly nonplussed by it all.

Asked whether it was his decision for his band to join one of heavy music's largest, and dare we say most commercial travelling circuses, he laughs: "Well, actually it was our decision to -not- do it, but we were over-written by our label." So how does a record label manage to convince someone who, let's be honest, has a reputation for being notoriously headstrong?

Karl Sanders: Well, we're trusting them on this one. To my way of thinking, Ozzfest is full of commercial mainstream mall-metal type kids. We might be able to convert some of them, but I'm not overly hopeful about that. The general public face I put on is that it's fun to slaughter non-believers -– that's always fun. But we're certainly not playing under nice conditions. We're up for twenty minutes with a five minute change-over between bands. So it's not actually five minutes to set up; it's more like two and a half minutes to set up, because you've got to wait for the other band to get off stage as well.

CoC: I've got to be honest with you: I first read the announcement right around the time I received my copy of the new album, which we'll get to in a second, and I couldn't help but think to myself that anyone going there expecting to "rock out" to something like Trivium or Shadows Fall has a serious surprise coming their way when you guys get up on stage.

KS: <laughs> In the words of the immortal Rob Halford: "They've got another thing comin'."

CoC: Still, it's Nile along with Behemoth on the line-up this year, which to my mind definitely makes it the heaviest line-up I can recall in the festival's history. What's been going on? Why do you think death metal's popularity has picked up to this extent?

KS: Who's to say? Are more people coming to their senses and realising that extreme metal is the way to go? I don't know. Who can say which way the wind blows?

CoC: Have you been seeing larger crowds on your last stints in the road in support of _Annihilation of the Wicked_?

KS: Yeah, I've definitely seen a steady growth each year that we've come around. It's not been explosive by any means; rather more of a gradual thing, but I'd take that any day of the week rather than an incremental Spinal Tap-esque decline. I'll never forget the scene in that movie where they talk about how many less people have been coming out to see them each year. <laughs>

CoC: The last time you and I had a chat, we discussed your label situation at Relapse, and with _Ithyphallic_ you've now made the move to Nuclear Blast. How did that deal come about, and how have they been treating you relative to your previous situation?

KS: We had a four album deal with Relapse, and we did four albums, so that agreement came to an end. So we sat down and the general consensus was that if we wanted to continue on with the momentum that we had built up over the course of those records, we needed go with a label that offered us the opportunity and the scope to be able to do that. What I'll definitely say about Nuclear Blast is that they have really stepped up. They're a true metal label, and they're sincere about what they do. They treated us magnanimously and I really have no complaints. In fact, on the whole I'd say that we've all been thrilled. It's been one positive after another so far.

CoC: What's been the biggest differences?

KS: They're very serious about what they do. They're organized, they're efficient, they're like the Panzer tank of metal labels. <laughs> And I can really relate to that. These guys aren't about bullshitting around. When they talk to us, they look us in the eye and you can see their sincerity. They do what they say they're going to do and they have some pretty impressive jack-boots with which to follow up on any promises that they make. I mean, the first I came to the Nuclear Blast offices in Germany, I saw Marcus Steiger [Nuclear Blast CEO] on the telephone telling a distributor that he –was- going to take another ten thousand copies of our new album or he was going to put a foot up his ass. We've actually shipped more records in Europe on the initial run of this record than we sold for the whole world on the last one, which is quite impressive. These guys definitely mean business, and that's good for me, because I'm not screwing around either. If I wanted to do that, I could just stay home and that would be nice and easy. I'd be able to sleep in my own bed, get to see my family once in a while, get to use my own shower. Those would be cool things. But no, I want to play metal and I want the label that I'm on to share my work ethic.

CoC: How do you feel about _Annihilation of the Wicked_ a few years on, and about all that it helped you achieve?

KS: I'm real proud of the music on that album; the compositions and the playing. There were times where I felt that it could have benefited from more attention in certain parts, making sure that things were clearer. But it's a lot to tackle. There are so many facets and details on a Nile record that it's hard to catch them all. So when I listen to it now, I can quite easily spot a few drum licks and riffs that got lost in the mix. There are a few guitar parts that I would have wanted to re-record. It doesn't change the quality of the music, but I want people to be able to hear all that stuff. So that's really what we were focusing on with this album, which is a goddamn tall order for this kind of music.

CoC: As a songwriter, to what extent do you reference work you've done in the past when you're creating something new?

KS: It's in the back of my mind. I definitely keep the past shortcomings laying around, swimming around in my mind, particularly when I'm trying to figure out where the fuck we're going to go now and especially what we could be doing better. I think that's very important for artistic growth. I don't agree with people who say "that's that" and forget what they've done in the past, because how do you ever get better?

CoC: Aside from the production, which is noticeably clearer than anything you've done before, I get the impression listening to _Ithyphallic_ that it was a far more confident record and that you essentially were focusing very specifically on what, in your mind, Nile do very well as a band. Would you agree with that?

KS: Absolutely. There's a lot of confidence in the band as a whole, I think, and that came from the last two years of touring the _Annihilation of the Wicked_ material. That was some very hard stuff to play and to perform, but we did it and that really helped us grow as musicians. So we wanted to put all of that straight back into this new record, and I think that there was definitely a desire with _Ithyphallic_ to focus on exactly what we wanted to present to people and what elements we wanted to incorporate into the Nile sound, if that makes sense. We didn't want to mess with stuff that didn't belong there, but we were very set on trying things in new ways.

CoC: What are the most distinctive differences on this record to your ears?

KS: I think that the band sounds way tighter. Like I said, the _Annihilation..._ tour has really allowed our band to become a very solid and very tight unit. Our drummer George has settled into the band perfectly and that really lets the band sound good. I was talking to Nergal from Behemoth the other day and he said that there's no such thing as sloppy bands, only sloppy drummers -- and that's really true. If the drummer isn't playing with steady time, then the band has absolutely no chance to sound good. If the drummer is doing his job and he's in command of his time –- and a lot of metal drummers tend to forget that it's their job to provide the time -– then it gives the band a chance to move forward and grow, and for the guitar and the vocals to do their thing. But coming back to Nile: we're just very happy in the band room at the moment, and we wanted go into the studio and make a really fucking kick-ass record; just focus on what we do well and make the best album we possibly could make.

CoC: You mentioned George earlier, and I was curious to know how his personality has slotted into the band, given the very close relationship between yourself and Dallas [Toller-Wade, guitarist]?

KS: Yeah, I think that Dallas and I are definitely a team. We know each other's strengths, and we both have a different set of strengths which ultimately compliments each other very well. There's also an understanding that we have that makes us have a very strong working relationship, which in turn has more or less assured the future of this band more than anything else. George fits into that perfectly, and he really respects the fact that Dallas and I have been here longer, and he really tries to work with us. In the past we've had drummers who've given us a bit of friction, and you really can't have band members fighting with each other, otherwise I think it drowns out the potential of the band. So the three of us are a very solid team, and I think that it really shows on this record. The album is very tight, it's very streamlined and efficient, and it delivers a fucking hammer-blow.

CoC: Dabbling with guitars as I do, I'm amazed once again by the step up you've taken in technicality with this record. Is that something that comes naturally as you continue to improve as a player, or do you consciously challenge yourself to top what you've done from a technical point of view?

KS: I'd definitely say that it's a conscious thing. Over the last two years Dallas and I have really upped our practice schedule. We carry a practice amp with us on the road and we're constantly playing. I even still take guitar lessons -– that's how serious I am about this. I think in life you've got to have something to strive for. You've got to have goals and you've got to have a fucking reason to get out of bed. For us, it's to do the best that we possibly can in every respect, otherwise we'd still be playing Iron Maiden covers.

CoC: So, for the record, what's the hardest song for you to play on this album?

KS: There's two: "What Can Be Safely Written" and "As He Creates So He Destroys". The hardest in a different way, only because it's a challenge for us to pull off as a unit, is "Papyrus...". The individual pieces can be played on their own, but the challenge is to keep it tight as a band while sticking to that insane tempo. But the hardest is definitely "What Can Be Safely Written". In fact, George used to joke around when we got to that one in rehearsal each night and call it "What Can Not So Safely Be Played". <laughs>

CoC: Just to satisfy my curiosity, how often do you guys practice?

KS: We usually bring George over a couple of weeks before we're going to do a record or when we're preparing to go on tour, and then when we don't have anything for him to do, we send him home so that he can have his life over there too.

CoC: So he's still based in Greece?

KS: Oh yeah.

CoC: Joe Payne, who played bass for you on the _Annihilation..._ tours, was someone we spoke about the last time I interviewed you, and I remember you contemplating at that point whether he was going to be staying on permanently or not. Clearly that hasn't happened, so are you able to shed more light on the reasons why?

KS: Well, when we started making this record we realised that we really needed to get rid of Joe, and after that we were like: "Now what? Do we audition bass players while we're trying to make this record?" And ultimately we just decided against that, did the parts ourselves and opted to get session players to go on tour with us. I mean, personally I don't want to have to be replacing members all the time. It's a pain in the ass. Just teaching them the material and being patient while they're getting it together is enough of a headache. The guy we have now, it would be great for him to stick around, but I'm not holding my breath either. From now on, when we're going to make someone a fully fledged member of Nile, they're going to have to prove themselves.

CoC: So joining Nile is like joining the Marines now?

KS: <laughs> More or less.

CoC: So why did Joe not cut it?

KS: Well, musically the boy is super talented. There's absolutely no doubt about that; he's an amazing player. But the problem is that he's also young and stupid and kept doing stupid stuff, and... man, it's a lesson I've learned in life: if you hang around with stupid people, then eventually they'll do something stupid that will fuck you in the ass. And that's tragically true in this case.

CoC: Was it simply a case of messing around on tour and enjoying the perks of being a musician a little too much, or does it go a little deeper than that?

KS: It did. As long as he wasn't doing something that was preventing the band from performing or travelling, then I was prepared to tolerate quite a bit of young, irresponsible behaviour. If it wasn't inhibiting his performance or the ability of the band to do a gig, well then –- hey, it's rock 'n' roll, and I'm not a fucking Nazi. But when it came to making the album, the foolishness started invading more important areas.

CoC: And I guess tying it back into what we discussed about the level of technicality in what you do, you can't really afford for someone to bring any less than their A-game to the table?

KS: No, not at all. I mean, I have enough things to worry about. I have the band. I'm a single father, which means that my kid lives with me. I don't have a mother around to help out, so that's a major responsibility right there. So factor that into what we do in Nile and trying to practice on my own -– I don't have time to babysit bass players any more.

CoC: Having met you and Dallas on a few occasions now, neither of you strike me as being particularly prone to the excesses of the road either?

KS: No, we don't. Nile material is pretty challenging and difficult to play. Trying to do it under too much influence would be disastrous, and it wouldn't be fair to the fans either. I mean, fans pay a lot of money to come out and see you play, and getting up there and doing a half-assed show is unacceptably disrespectful.

CoC: So with all being said and done, and the initial response to _Ithyphallic_ already being very positive, what are your hopes for this record?

KS: I don't know. We didn't really think about that. We just wanted to make the best album we possibly could. Where it will ultimately end up taking us -– who knows? If you have expectations, you're always bound to be disappointed. I'm just happy to go where the future takes me.

CoC: And plans after Ozzfest?

KS: We're doing a European tour with Six Feet Under.

CoC: A slightly odd combination?

KS: Well, they have a slightly different crowd to what we do, that's for sure. But it's always good to be able to reach out to new people and create a bit of scene unity at the same time. I think when you mix the bill up a little bit, it's more interesting. If you have the exact same style all night long, it's like someone's up there playing the same song for six hours, and that bores the shit out of me.

CoC: Well, Karl -– thanks very much for your time, and best of luck with this record. Anything you want to say to end this off with?

KS: I think that would best be answered by assuring everyone reading this that we will always be a brutal death metal band, and maintain the identity of who we are. That's pretty certain. Within that there's a window of opportunity, and who knows where it will take us? I'm currently really enjoying playing my big double-neck fretless guitar, so maybe it will make an appearance on the next Nile record. <laughs>

(article submitted 9/9/2007)

7/29/2012 P Schwarz Nile: At the Gate of Exhaustion
8/12/2005 J Smit Nile: Blazing a Trail of Annihilation
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
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
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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