Few death metal bands are as unique and as highly-regarded as Nile. Karl Sanders has been a pivotal figure in the whole genre history, spanning through three decades of scene support. He was there in the eighties, when his friends Morbid Angel were rehearsing Abominations Of Desolation, and he is still here today, ready to release the ninth album of what can be doubtlessly called his own band.
Nile comes from difficult times: four years have passed since What Should Not Be Unearthed, the longest time without releasing an album since their debut in 1998, and the painful separation from long-time member and friend Dallas Toler-Wade was definitely a factor. Hours before their show in Milan together with now-rising Vitriol and unquestionable Hate Eternal, we sat down with Sanders himself to discuss the latest news and much more. The fifty-six-year-old guitarist gave the impression of carefully considering every single word he uttered, and started talking cautiously, as if he were to study, understand his speaker. The more the interview progressed, the more enjoyable the conversation became.
Let’s start from the new album coming out, Vile Nilotic Rites. It’s the first one in a while, and you never spent four years without releasing a new record.
Yeah, but this time we did.
And what should your fans expect? Hopefully they’ll read this interview before the actual release date.
Did you listen to the album? What do you think?
I did, and I enjoyed it. I don’t want to say it’s “easier” than your average, but I found it easier to get into it.
Yeeeah, it’s very listenable.
That’s a very fitting adjective. So you agree?
Definitely. It’s been composed in such a way that it’s very musical. I feel that anybody can put this record on and listen to it, and they should probably be able to get something from it. If you like metal you should be able to like this record. There are fast, technical things, here and there, but there are also slower things, mid-tempo things, heavy things, weird things, a lot of different things. A lot of variety.
In the album liner notes you really stressed the concept of teamwork on this one. On the other hand it’s the first Nile studio album without Dallas…
We don’t say that word.
We say it’s the first studio album with the new guys! We’re trying to avoid controversy. We live in an age of click-bait journalism. It does not matter how good you and I do, when the article gets reposted on Blabbermouth they will find some little sentence…
…And put it as a head title.
And put it as a head title AND make it sound like WOOO, LET’S SEE WHAT THEY’RE ARGUING ABOUT. It’s click-baiting, and I hate it. I fucking hate it.
Well, I’m the last one who can complain, being a freelancer for Vice, which I am aware is the whore of clickbait journalism [“I know”, Karl says laughing], but that’s the only way to bring people to read your article. It’s a very tight balance between bringing people to read content and doing that without sensationalism.
A tight balance, you’re right. It’s kinda like everything else in life. Everything has a negative side, yeah. [mumbles thoughtfully]
Back to the album: could you feel the difference working with the new guys?
Oh man it was night and day. They’re like a breath of fresh air. George laughs and makes jokes, you know our drummer George, Kollias, he says we are the breeze brothers, we are so fresh. [chuckles]
So you had fun.
A lot. It was a lot of work, but we had fun. Brad and Brian [Parris, bassist, and Kingsland, guitarist] are eager and full of enthusiasm and that’s important, to find that spark again.
Now about the concept of the album: it’s still a Nile album 100%; but what about the “Oxford Handbook…”, what kind of title is that?
Did you read the liner notes at all?
Notes say it comes from a nazi documentary which you turned to something completely different, it was kind of obscure really. And complete lyrics were not disclosed.
Oh. Yeah, very obscure. Sometimes, when you write songs, where you start is not necessarily where you finish. And I like that. It’s like learning something new in bed, you know, with a new girl, you know. You start here and you go there. So the “Oxford Handbook…”, there actually is a real book called The Oxford Handbook Of Genocidal Studies. I wanted to find out more about genocide in ancient times, and that’s kind of where it comes from. Genocide is not a new idea, it’s actually a really, really, REALLY old idea, it wasn’t invented in WWII. It’s been around probably since humans started killing each other.
Anything interesting about ancient Egyptian culture and genocide in there?
A lot of it comes from Sargon II, an Assyrian king, a bloody tyrant and conqueror, yet not strictly Egyptian. There’s also a lot of quotes from Homer, Thucydides, a Greek historian whose name I might not be pronouncing right, so it’s not necessarily Egyptian, it could be anyone. As I was working on the song it started turning into, like, those printed manuals they give to soldiers about why you’re going to war and stuff like that. And it started sounding like that, like: “This is how you do it, you kill every man, woman and child”. Yeah. None shall escape the sword. This was actually the original title. But… It evolved. Start here [points to his right with his finger], you go there [draws a line to his left, dramatically].
Now this is a personal curiosity of mine: I never found a precise answer in any of your interviews along the years, but what precisely is your grade of knowledge of ancient Egypt and ancient cultures in general? I know you said you do not have a degree on the subject, but to what extent does your passion go?
It’s a casual interest, you know. One day I woke up and I realised I was in a band called Nile, I looked in the mirror and I said: “Hmm. If I were listening to a band called Nile, what would I want to hear?”. I thought about that for a while, and that’s what led to my research to write the lyrics. I thought that if I was going to write them I wanted to do a good job, so… I was in Greenville Technical College at the time, which had a great library, in fact many of the college libraries in the States, maybe around the world, I don’t know, anyway in that time, 1993, they had their own network, they were all connected. If you look for a book in this college library, you can find it in any college. That was really helpful as I was starting to write songs, I could find all kind of stuff that way. Over time my interest grew, the more I was looking things up and studying, the more interested I became.
And I know that you first trip to Egypt was only last year, with Nader Sadek. How would you describe that, after twentyfive years writing lyrics in a band called Nile?
It was great. Nader was a great host, he took us to all kind of places, I saw such amazing things. It was very inspiring, a couple of songs actually came out of that trip, especially “We Are Cursed”.
Was it better, worse or just like you expected? Egypt has always been a renowned vacation location for Europeans, but in the last few years the Country became more unstable…
Well it was very cheap to go, this time. This was what prohibited me from going in the past: Egypt is not that far from Italy or Egypt, but coming from the States, that’s a two-thousand-dollar ticket. I live on a death metal budget, so that was absolutely impossible. But with Nader it was crazy, we had a fabulous time.
Complete change of subject: you said in previous interviews that you do not want to discuss your opinions, because they’re taken out of context and turned into click-baiting titles, and you already expressed your point on click-bait [Karl laughs]. Last year I had the chance to talk to Dave Mustaine, and he said he would not discuss his personal views because he was afraid to alienate part of his fanbase due to something which had nothing to do with music.
That’s very well said.
On the other hand: isn’t metal, and extreme metal particularly, all about speaking out loud and not giving a fuck about anyone?
YES! YES. IT. IS. As someone who’s older, who remembers what metal was, the ideals, the conviction, the philosophy… We don’t live in that world anymore. We still have music that sounds like that, but we live in a world where everyone is offended by whatever you say. I don’t care what it is you’re talking about, if you were to say that chair is made of aluminium someone would be motherfucking offended. [mimicking] “What, you don’t like aluminium chairs? What’s your problem with aluminium?” It’s just crazy, and this is the world we actually live in. So, if you go around speaking with this idealistic idea of “I should be able to say whatever I want”, well, yeah, that is the idea of metal, freedom of expression. Do I think disco music is gay? Yes. If I say that I’m now offending gay people and anybody who likes disco. So now I’m an asshole. Though, you know… That’s kind of the truth. And when I was younger you could say that. You could say “I’m metal, and if it’s not metal, it sucks”, and mean it, and no one was offended. Now? You gotta be really careful what you say in public, really careful.
We’ve become way more worried about not offending anybody than actually making an opinion based on facts.
Yeah, that’s nicely said man.
And you think we are destined to self-destruction, is that right? You believe we live in an idiocracy already.
Yes I do. Do you remember the movie, Idiocracy?
I know of it, but have never seen it actually.
Aw man, you gotta watch it! It was prophetic! Ten years or so after they made it, you look around and wow, it really is like that. It’s a little bit scary. It’s the nature of human beings, there’s a couple of lines in the original Planet Of The Apes movie, with Charlton Heston, where Dr. Zaius is explaining to the young ape doctor why you can’t let men do whatever they want. Because we’ll use up all the food, destroy our environment and then we’ll move on and look for another place. You know, I’m not a Greenpeace motherfucker, ok? I don’t go around saying “Save the trees” or whatever. That’s not my life, I play metal. BUT…
…You live in this world.
I live in this world. And if you look around… People are fucking stupid.
Can I write that down and use it as a headtitle?
You can write that, yes, because it’s everybody, no single group of people, no minority, just people, in general, they are fucking stupid. Especially in America, where you can see the dumbing down of the culture even from ten or twenty years ago. It’s a concerted effort to keep the population fucking stupid.
Made by who?
Well, some people want to say Illuminati… I don’t believe in fucking conspiracy theories, I’m just going by what the fuck I see. I say the educated upper-class, the 1% of the population. The rest of us are like chickens in a tax farm. Our purpose is to work and pay taxes. Consume products. That’s it. It’s like we’re being farmed, and you don’t want the chickens, the cows and the pigs to get too smart, ‘cause if they do, they’d say: “Hey, wait a minute, why are we doing this for you? Shouldn’t we be looking out for our own interest?”
Extreme metal can be a way to stand up.
Indeed, I believe it. It’s an individual expression of defiance: “I’ll listen to whatever music I want, play whatever music I want and I don’t care what you say”. The problem, I think, is that a lot of metal has become acceptable.
You mean for the masses, or the artists themselves do not have that will to shock and to stand up for something any more?
It’s the culture, as a whole. We’ve had the internet for quite a while now. Everybody has seen everything. You can click on any link you want and literally see any video by any band or anything about anyone. Whatever it is that you want to know about, you can click, you can Google it. We have so much information that information and disinformation are kind of the same fucking thing. In America we have so much information about what our own government is doing to us that nobody cares anymore. We have an information overload. You cannot process so much information, you cannot care, really it’s a means of pacifying the masses. Keeping us all stupid.
It’s a very fascinating contrast, talking to you in person. You’ve been playing the most intricate and aggressive death metal for twenty-five years, but then you’re very talkative and very thoughtful. Do you still practice martial arts?
[chuckles] I do. I’m a fourth degree black belt in Sen-I-Jutsu and I have a first degree black belt in taekwondo.
Does that help you keeping your calm and focus?
I would, yeah. I think that really is the best thing I’ve gotten out of martial arts. My first wife said: “You were dangerous before you practiced martial arts”. When someone is trying to punch you and kick you if you lose your calm and focus you’re gonna have your ass beaten. You gotta keep a cool head, the best fighters are the ones that don’t panic.