When Karl Sanders said "be prepared to be crushed" in reference to "Annihilation of the Wicked", he was not exaggerating. I'd venture to say that this is the heaviest NILE album to date, perhaps in part due to Neil Kernon's outstanding (as usual) production, one that brings out the sheer brutality and precision of Sanders' and Dallas Toler-Wade's blazing guitar work. And by brutality, I'm not just talking about the sheer pummel of it all; it's an all-encompassing descriptor of the album's depth and majesty. As for the lyrical content, there's a reason why Sanders takes great pains to explain in the liner notes the ideas behind each song, his knowledge of ancient Egyptian civilization impressive to say the least.
It would take pages to dissect "Annihilation of the Wicked", something that could also be said about albums like "In Their Darkened Shrines", "Black Seeds of Vengeance", and "Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka". In general terms, what sets "Annihilation of the Wicked" apart from "In Their Darkened Shrines" in particular is a delivery that is even more ferocious, owing to the absolutely ripping (and stunning) guitar work and, for the most part, a faster pace. Toler-Wade takes a more active writing role and if you've read Sanders' comments about the pain he endured learning the parts to "The Burning Pits of the Duat" (also explained in the liner notes), you know that Wade's contribution is anything but simple.
The sounds of ancient Egypt still play a prominent role, but it's not something that is as readily apparent as it is on "In Their Darkened Shrines". The vibe and atmosphere is undeniably NILE, but I found myself paying a great deal more attention to the complex arrangements this time around. The six-string complexity is as sonically devastating, as it is awe-inspiring and often mesmerizing. Christ, even the staccato speed vocals blow my mind! I'd never accuse NILE of being technical for the sake of technicality, and "Annihilation of the Wicked" demonstrates more so than any previous album how impressively this band can make a musician's head explode and still not sound as though it's merely the stuff of guitar clinics. My point is that passion is never sacrificed for technique.
As I sat and waited for the instrumental introduction of (here we go) "Dusk Falls Upon the Temple of The Serpent on the Mount of Sunrise", thoughts of how NILE could possible top themselves swirled in my brain. And then "Cast Down the Heretic" hits so hard, so fast, and so convincingly that any worries soon vanish. And it gets more impressive as you make your way though tracks like "Sacrifice Unto Sebek" and "Lashed to the Slave Stick", culminating in the twisting and turning title track (including harmonic screams during the song's first section that are beyond cool). Even so, it's "Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten" that I keep going back to for repeat listens. It's got a crushing stop-start, slow-tempo rhythm that is as heavy as anything you're likely to come across this year.
I can't say that "Annihilation of the Wicked" is the watershed of the genre that is "In Their Darkened Shrines". I do think it is just as good though. At this point, it's a matter of the degree of excellence, not a case of good or bad anyway. If you're already a NILE fan, I think you'll find that "Annihilation of the Wicked" is an album that you can absorb in one sitting, as it flows better than previous releases. As for the newcomers…well…it'll take some time. You know the deal; there is death metal and then there is NILE.