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Shadow Music Ryan Harding Review by
Ryan Harding
Relapse Records

Anyone who has seen this band live knows they are jaw-droppingly precise, and that there's hardly anything on their albums they cannot duplicate in concert. They were performing BLACK SEED tracks "The Black Flame" and "Defiling the Gates of Ishtar" with all its decorations long before they ever went into the studio to record. You could only expect a labyrinthian work of exceeding brutality . . . and BLACK SEEDS still manages to surprise.

Foremost question on the minds of many will be, "Can they outdo AMONGST THE CATACOMBS OF NEPHREN-KA?" The South Carolinian band took the underground by storm with that release, and many may cling to it even in the face of improvement. I'd pretty much made up my mind by "Multitude of Foes" that Nile had outdone themselves and released another milestone.

BLACK SEEDS OF VENGEANCE takes the aggression of CATACOMBS and destroys it. Who do we have to thank for this? Guitarist/vocalist Karl Sanders is responsible for almost all the songwriting. Drumming duties were split between Pete Hammoura and session fill-in Derek Roddy of HATE PLOW, due to Hammoura suffering a shoulder injury. If it didn't credit Roddy in the liner notes, it would be difficult to tell who did what. Knowing what Roddy can do, it'd be easy to say, "He's probably on the faster songs." The problem with that is that all the songs are almost inhumanly fast. Wherever Hammoura has contributed, he's undoubtedly buried his exemplary work on CATACOMBS. The aggression factor seems as big a step up from the last album as CATACOMBS itself did from the FESTIVALS OF ATONEMENT debut. The drums are not the only element providing such astonishment. The guitar riffs are of the three "in's" variety - intricate, infallible, and insane. BLACK SEEDS is the debut for second guitarist Dallas Toler-Wade, who also contributes considerably to the vocals along with Sanders and bassist Chief Spires. You'd obviously have to be fairly adept just to play what Sanders has written, but Dallas also gives us "Multitude of Foes," a two minute technical maelstrom, as well as some pronounced soloing.

Is it possible to deliver such aggression while retaining the Egyptian timbres? You might be surprised. These are still the defining components of the songs, such as the scales (no pun intended) that jump out of a song like "Chapter for Transforming into a Snake," or the atmospheric undercurrent to the second half of "Masturbating the War God." "Defiling the Gates of Ishtar" crushes with the anger of Endiku before seguing into a chant alternating between clean singing and growled threats; one of the album's most powerful moments. There's also a pleasant weight to the crawling passages of "The Black Flame," as well as scattered throughout most of the other tracks before taking off just as suddenly. The structures are complex and absorbing enough to require several listens before it all begins to sink in. Despite all three vocalists having generally low voices, they achieve their own identities. The process is even more enjoyable to witness live, but it translates just as energetically to the album.

A couple of short interludes enhance the Egyptian motif, and liner notes detail the lengths they went to just to get them, as well as providing background information behind the lyrical meanings. The natural conclusion is the ten minute epic "To Dream of Ur," a doom-like sprawling track that is unneccessarily followed by two more experimental type tracks that you won't always feel the need to play. Still, the album's overall precision and intricacy more than make up for the contrasting conclusion, and BLACK SEEDS OF VENGENACE emerges as one of the year's most skillfull, annihilating efforts.


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This review copyright 2001 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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