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It speaks volumes of the amount of confidence that Relapse Records had in their newest signee to release this demo compilation as early as they did. Released in 1999, just one year after “Amongst the Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka”, and one year before “Black Seeds Of Vengeance” this compilation houses both the band’s demos: “Festivals Of Atonement” from 1995 and “Ramses Bringer Of War” from 1997. The self-titled demo from 1994 is curiously absent from this compilation, but would be re-released much later as the “Worship the Animal” EP in 2011. Which is understandable in a way, because here Nile sounds far closer to the sound they’d have on their official, label-sanctioned releases. “In the Beginning” sees Nile at its most primal, embryonal form – but already the band’s incredible sense for musicianship and arrangements shine through in these demos.

The album opens with the “Festivals Of Atonement” demo session from 1995. ‘Divine Intent’ is a strong opening with tribal drumming, but despite the impressive framework the track goes nowhere, and doesn’t deliver the climax hinted upon. There is a hypnotic charm to the repetitious riffing, and the thrash acceleration is highly effective. ‘The Black Hand Of Set’ is the signature track of this demo, and it is unclear why it wasn’t later re-recorded for the debut. The track is faster, more brutal and, more importantly, the most ambitious cut in terms of composition and arrangement. In fact, I’d wager a bet and say that ‘The Black Hand Of Set’ formed much of the template from which the band would later go on to write the subsequent demo. The use of Egyptian scales, melodies and interludes is understandably scarce, as both the band and their financial leverage, were at the minimum when this was recorded. The demo is also notable more conventional death metal in terms of arrangement and overall delivery. The whole is more loose, and not nearly as rigid and mechanical sounding as the band’s later recorded output.

Vocally, there is more of a thrash shout than any real grunting that is used here. The three-way vocal interplay between Karl Sanders (lead guitar), Chief Spires (bass guitar) and Pete Hammoura (drums) is introduced as early as this. All three men have a distinct voice, and the alternating of lines/verses is as effective and poignant sounding here as it would be years later. The solo’ing is present, but it is more restrained and conventional sounding than it would be in subsequent years and albums. ‘The Black Hand Of Set’ is the fastest, most technical track of this demo, and it forms the backbone of what the band would later write. It is the signature track of the demo, and is literally the stand out track, because no other track on the demo sounds as accomplished musically as this one. ‘Wrought’ starts off with an ethnic intro segment, but it is a superficial addition to flavor up the death metal violence. There is even some clean singing in this track. It is built off a similar template as opening cut ‘Divine Intent’ with tribal-like drumming and churning chord progressions that recall early Morbid Angel and Incantation in equal measure. The second half introduces some hokey sounding synths, but these are mostly redeemed by Pete Hammoura’s barbaric drumming and an excellent wailing guitar lead/solo.

Following this we arrive at the 1997 “Ramses Bringer Of War” demo session. All three tracks were written from the template of ‘The Black Hand Of Set’ from the preceding demo session. These cuts are significantly heavier, meatier and faster than the cuts from the 1995 session. It is not very surprising that all these three cuts would eventually end up in their definitive form on the band’s 1998 Relapse Records debut “Among the Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka”, along with seven new original tracks written specifically for the session. There are no significant different between the original versions and the renditions that later appeared on “Amongst the Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka”. The songs are played less fast, and somewhat looser on this demo recording – but beyond that and the lower production values there are no immediate differences in terms of writing. Notable is that “Ramses Bringer Of War” sounds far darker, malevolent and all around more brutal than the preceding demo. The grunting comes into full bloom, and Nile’s early writing is now finally complete. In five years Nile had undergone a steep evolution.

Both demos were recorded at Sanctuary Studios with producer/engineer Jimmy Ennis. Considering other demo tape releases of the time, it is surprising how good this actually sounds. There are shortcomings, of course, the production misses balance and not all instruments are evenly distributed in the mix. When the vocals, drums and keyboards play at full swing the guitars tend to get buried due to the limited channels available. The drums sound far more commanding and powerful than on the 1995 demo. The ethnic interludes and segues sound less strong than they would on the subsequent album, but this is merely due to financial – and time restrictions on part of the band more than anything. On all fronts Nile had made significant strides forward in terms of playing and writing, trimming all excessive fat and no longer meandering around aimlessly. It is not surprising that Relapse Records decided to contract the band based upon this tape.

“In the Beginning” is an interesting historical document into the early years of one of South Carolina’s most identifiable death metal institutions. It will probably not appeal to the youngsters that go to know the band through their later records (say, “Annihilation Of the Wicked” and onward) – but those who adore Nile’s earlier, more stripped down direction will find this interesting to see from whence they came. It is a pity the self-titled demo wasn’t included here, because then one could have seen the band’s entire evolutionary transformation one step at a time. From the humble thrash metal beginnings and see the band’s gradual conversion in terms of skill level, writing and playing with each new recording venture into the highly respected band they are today. Those who love archive and historical recordings will find a lot to like here. “In the Beginning” is worth of a cursory glance, for old and new fans alike, to say the least.

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After spending a good five years finding and optimizing their sound South Carolina death metal combo Nile was contracted by American independent record label Relapse Records. For their label debut Nile compiled the best songs of their demo phase, and wrote a handful of new tracks to balance out its debut. Mostly inspired by the early works of Cannibal Corpse, Incantation, Morbid Angel, Suffocation and Vader “Amongst the Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka” was a whirlwind of high-speed death metal intensity and a few brief atmospheric Egyptian-tinged flashes. So, despite the continual praise heaped upon these mortals – how good is that debut exactly? Well, it’s great for the most part, but it is littered with faults and shortcomings that would later be ironed out, thankfully.

Of the new tracks ‘Barra Edinuzzu’ is among the more ambitious. Although lasting little over two minutes it houses one of the most impressive dynamic changes and chord progressions on this record, and an epic finale. The album is different from future output because it largely culls from the foundations of “Tomb Of the Mutilated” and “The Bleeding” in the sense that these are chunky death metal cuts played at an enormous speed. The drumming recalls Jim Roe’s tenure with Incantation, and the whole has that technical framework and percussive density usually associated with early Suffocation. The riff set and hunger bring in an influence of early Vader, and the slower cuts (however few) are clearly inspired by the B and C records of Morbid Angel. Add all that up, and what you get is an impressive package that is only cut short by the brief running time of the majority of the tracks. ‘Ramses Bringer Of War’ is partly redeemed by the inclusion of the intro movement from Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars, Bringer Of War’ from his classic symphony ‘The Planets’. Most other tracks are over before you know it, and the album itself is a rush of blastbeats, grunts and shrieking leads/solos. Thankfully by the second album Nile would have understood the importance of not rushing everything.

That’s the biggest strike against this debut record. In their quest to be as ‘brutal’ (gosh, I hate that term) as humanly possible, Nile often forgets that it is not speed, density or heaviness that is paramount, but songwriting is. Take opening cut ‘Smashing the Antiu’, which is basically one long blastbeat interrupted by a slow section in the middle, and the lead section towards the end. This song could have been so much more, by just distributing its ideas more evenly, which would have extended it by a minute and a half. As much I like the song, it is brimming with ideas that are never really explored beyond the barest essentials, only briefly hinting on what is lying underneath. Most of the time it feels like ‘Smashing the Antiu’ and ‘Barra Edinuzzu’ is one bigger song cut awkwardly in half. ‘Serpent Headed Mask’ is pretty much identical to ‘Barra Edinuzzu’ in terms of overall composition, and its atmospheric break greatly enhances the effectiveness of the cut. ‘Ramses Bringer Of War’ is, of course, one of the album’s signature highlights – and the fact that is was just a re-recorded demo track makes it even more impressive.

The line-up is identical to the ones of the preceding demos, with exception of the ousting of guitarist John Ehlers. This translates in a natural transition from a demo band into a full-blown professional outfit. The band sounds cohesive, tightly-knit and really gels together well. The interplay of the three vocals is what makes the band’s first (and second) album way more interesting than their later output. On here the band uses every vocal style at their disposal. Deep growls, throatier grunts, angry shouts, whispers, tribal chants, and even sparse narrative bits are employed through out. This would be abandoned at a later stage for a combination of more traditional death grunts. “Amongst the Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka” was recorded as a three-piece with only co-founder Karl Sanders handling guitar duties. Chief Spires (bass guitar) and Pete Hammoura (drums) both share vocals with Sanders, and only after the completion of this album second guitarist/vocalist Dallas Toler-Wade would be enlisted.

For the first time Nile recorded at Sound Lab in South Carolina with producer/engineer Bob Moore. The result is that this debut sounds a lot more forceful, meatier and generally more concrete compared to the preceding demos. Much like Kataklysm’s “The Mystical Gate Of Reincarnation” the album is heavy on the bottom-end, and expenses clarity and definition for the sake of an all-out barbaric onslaught. The absence of clarity, definition and range would be duly rectified on subsequent recordings, but for a debut the production is fairly impressive. The artwork and graphics by Adam Peterson also look great, and the whole package exudes professionalism and seriousness.  Curiously there is no photography whatsoever in the booklet for this debut, and that added a bit to the mystique of the band, and the relative novelty of their Egyptian concept. The lyrics, as the band name suggests, deal with Egyptian culture, history and mythology – while the album title refers to the pulp and atmospheric horror literature of H.P. Lovecraft. Nephren-Ka, also known as the Black Pharaoh, is a character from the Cthulhu Mythos who started the worship of Nyarlathotep, a malign entity also known as the Crawling Chaos. He is featured in the novel "The Haunter of the Dark", published 1936.

Although many will write this off as a dry-run or proof-of-concept for the albums to follow “Amongst the Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka” is the sole album of its kind in Nile’s catalogue. Savage, barbaric and completely unforgiving at any point, it is the watershed moment in the band’s blossoming career, and the offering that cemented their status as one of the genre’s brightest new hopes. As stated at the top, “Amongst the Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka” does a lot of things right, but it isn’t without its glaring faults or omissions. In fact, for all the power and brutality this album harnesses, it doesn’t set its goals all too high to begin with. Outside of the skill level and interesting lyrical themes this didn’t sound too different from what was being pushed out in most of the underground. Was Nile better than a great deal of their competitors? Absolutely. Was this band as much as a genre-savior as it was made out to be? Not in the slightest, although they did undestand the strengths of the genre better than most. That’s something at least