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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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Mutant was the studio side-project of Theory In Practice lead guitarist Peter Lake and drummer/vocalist Henrik Ohlsson. The studio project was started originally for both members to get away from the complex instrumentation and songwriting of their main band Theory In Practice. The duo opted for black metal as that genre was as far away imaginable from the music they wrote in their main band. This led to Mutant becoming a straightforward, high-speed black metal outfit that took a good deal of inspiration from the classic Norsecore works of Dark Funeral, Immortal and Marduk. Like the duo’s main band the newer Mutant songs also dealt with cosmic themes, alien lifeforms and government conspiracies, while the old tracks are more typical in terms of subject matter. Is “The Aeonic Majesty” a forgotten gem, a lost classic…. or isn't it?

“The Aeonic Majesty” doesn’t contain all new material. In fact more than half the record are re-furbished tracks from the band’s independently released 1998 demo “Eden Burnt to Ashes”.  ‘The Majestic Twelve’, ‘Premonitions Erupt’, the title track and ‘Immemorial Lunacy’ are entirely new and exclusive to this release. The guitar tone, drum production and bass guitar sound nearly identical to the main band, and while these new cuts are more elaborate, technical and generally more complex in architecture compared to those of the aforementioned demo, they are nothing when looking at the body of work from both men’s main band. Mutant play a slick, digitized and modern interpretation of the classic Scandinavian black metal sound of the mid-to-late 90s – and what they do different is exactly what made them so interesting, even if the sci-fi angle wasn’t new.

The keyboards have a prominent place in the glossy production yet they never serve as a lead instrument, as they mostly accentuate and follow the guitars. There are momentary synthesizer solo segments, but for the most part the keyboards are supplemental and only meant to create a haunting and otherworldly atmosphere. All studio drums were programmed and sequenced by guitarist Peter Lake, and thanks to the wonderful production and attention to detail these drums never feel programmed at any time. These digital drums sound very crunchy and organic, and through the incredible precision of its composer the fills, rolls, kick drums and cymbal crashes never feel artificial, not even in the blistering fast parts. The guitar tone and vocal style is similar to Theory In Practice’s third and final album “Colonizing the Sun”, which was to be released a year after this album and side-project. The bass guitar is less present with this record, although this has probably also to do with that it exclusively doubles the guitars.

In terms of composition the new tracks are more elaborate and ambitious. ‘The Majestic Twelve’ and ‘Premonitions Erupt’ head into a more technical and midpaced direction, especially the latter. Notable is that the new tracks also integrate emotive leads/solos, which was something that most old tracks avoided. ‘Premonitions Erupt’ actually borders on death metal territory in its slow grinding mid section, the acceleration and the wailing solo only serve to push it farther into that genre. Of the old tracks the H.P. Lovecraft inspired ‘Beyond Bet Durrabia’ stands out with its atmospheric Arabic synths, deformed spoken word, synth flutes and Middle-Eastern melodies. ‘The Aeonic Majesty’ is a much slower track of almost doom-like proportions. The hapsichord solo during this song gives it almost a medieval, or Victorian atmosphere, although the song lyrically has nothing to do with either of these two historic eras. It is a great and unexpected twist. Similarly is the extended bass guitar break in ‘Dark Spheres’ an incredible simple but effective device to break up the incessant blasting from the track as it adds unexpected sophistication and a level of finesse usually sorely missing from the genre as a whole.

Mutant wasn’t a typical black metal band in terms of imagery, and that only served to make them stand out from the faceless masses. The digitally rendered artwork by Polish artist Graal is nothing short of amazing. The booklet is beautifully handled with clearly eligible lyrics and production, while the stylized photography of both men exude professionalism and confidence in the material. The remainder of the booklet is adorned by the cover creature in various poses, and spiralling spinal columns which serve as a background image for the typesetting. Even though the lyrics of the older songs are more typically black metal, there isn’t a single pentagram, inverted cross or other such imagery and iconography to be found with Mutant. Which is only logical, because this unit was called Mutant, and the majority of its songs dealt with sci-fi and little else.

It is perhaps not surprising that Peter Lake and Henrik Ohlsson decided to lay the Mutant project to rest given the increasingly technical and elaborate nature of much of the new material present on this disc. This material was probably written and compiled in between songwriting sessions for Theory In Practice, who would release their third and final album “Colonizing the Sun” the year after. Had they continued Mutant, it would eventually have led to a watering down of both the main band and the side-project, as both started to share similar compositional traits and idiosyncracies. “The Aeonic Majesty” is a fascinating historical document in the sense that it gives an insight into how people you would normally not associate with black metal interpret it through their own visions and musical baggage. “The Aeonic Majesty” is competent, professionally self-produced, abrasive to a fault and majestic to the core. This album has it all in spades.

Is this a great record? Absolutely. Is it vital to own? Your mileage may vary on that.