Call it Discovery Channel metal if you must, but Nile runs circles around the majority of death metal acts that churn out cookie-cutter records crammed with juvenile gore-splattered lyrics and incomprehensible blastbeats. While their third full-length, In Their Darkened Shrines, finds these genre-leaders advancing their sound in minute increments from previous platters Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka and Black Seeds of Vengeance, all can be forgiven when taking into account Nile's staggering, well-researched thematic depth and impressive musicianship. Plus, like Black Seeds, the CD booklet details the weight of mastermind/guitarist, and unofficial Egyptologist Karl Sanders, which means the band's work captures the nastiness and pitch-black themes of death metal, while at the same time being a work of blood-soaked historical fiction inspired by H.P. Lovecraft and ancient hieroglyphic texts. And Shrines is an utterly convincing realization of Nile's passion and intelligence, incorporating jarring tempo changes -- from downtuned doom/sludge metal to concise hyper-blasts -- laser-precise riffing and guttural grindcore vocals into the bowel-twisting, and occasionally startlingly melodic, structures of "Sarcophagus," "Unas Slayer of Gods," and "Wind of Horus." But the album's crowning achievement is a four-part suite "In Their Darkened Shrines," a truly epic masterpiece in both concept and execution, seamlessly incorporating majestic, sweeping keyboards, chanting choirs, tribal drumming, and battle horns into the mix, with recurring melodic themes marking what is easily the band's most ambitious and effective composition to date -- a pseudo-symphonic death metal soundtrack that conjures up visions of tyranny, slavery, rebellion, and sacrifice to cruel gods. While other acts in the genre are content to create the musical equivalent of slasher flicks, Nile aspires to Lawrence of Arabia heights, essentially beating old tyrants Morbid Angel at their own game. In Their Darkened Shrines transports the listener into the shadows of the ancient pyramids many millennia ago, and explores the brutal psychology of the time as well, thus betraying a level of ambition to which very few bands in the genre aspire. Quite frankly, Nile is the death metal band of the '00s, and Shrines is, for all intents and purposes, a masterpiece.
AllMusic Review by John Serba