The Cycle of Death, Growth and Rebirth: Karl Sanders on the new Nile lineup and 'Vile Nilotic Rites'
Interview by Parisa Eshrati
Upon the release of Nile's ninth studio album, Vile Nilotic Rites, we spoke via email with founding member Karl Sanders on the rebirth of the band. We discuss the parallels of the band's journey to ancient Egyptian literature, drawing from The Book of the Dead to understand how the tumultuous path ultimately led to the new lineup, new album and re-invigoration of his musical passion.
In one of your favorite books, The Book of the Dead, it’s said that “the deceased is made to live again so that they may arise and be reborn with the morning sun”. There’s this concept that you first have to die and go through all of these tumultuous paths in order to be revived. You’ve said in many interviews that you feel that Nile has been reborn, so I’m interested to hear about your idea of rebirth of the band through this kind of idea we see in The Book of the Dead.
I think its entirely relevant, especially the concept of the Sun traveling through the 12 hours of night, facing all the trials and terrors of the underworld on its path to being reborn every morning. The last couple of years before the member change were a real test of perseverance, heartbreak and despair. We were like a band barely hanging on anymore, with part of the band behaving like vultures feasting on a not-quite-dead-yet carcass. Hanging on to that lineup was a case of misguided loyalty. There was no way things were going to last in that condition. The breath of fresh air that swept through this band when we got the new guys was life restoring and renewing. I realized a profound truth – that both the band members and the fans deserve people in Nile who actually want to be in Nile. It seems simple now, but in the period of darkness, things were difficult to see clearly. Right now I feel like the band has survived the Underworld darkness, walked out into the clear fresh morning air, where I can both see and breathe the fresh new potential of this group of people.
There’s also a pivotal moment in this process of rebirth, which is The Weighing of the Hearts ceremony. It’s very much the definitive moment that defines the direction of the person’s journey. What were similarly the pivotal decisions in the rebirth of Nile that guided the direction you want to go for the band and the new album?
Most definitely the revealing of the potential of the new members , and what they had to contribute. Sometimes not all is revealed until you actually start working with people, start to see what they are capable of , and how what they bring can fit into the big picture. I think the tough part is early on – when you have to make a judgement about what kind of person do you think this is – and what kind of person that they might become.
I think it’s really interesting to hear everyone’s influence on the new album record as it’s much more collaborative than previous releases. Brian, for example, brings a lot of black metal influence, and I wanted to bring up an example of that in “The Imperishable Stars are Sickened”. The theme of the song is how the gods in the stars are distancing themselves from humanity because they’re sick of us. Can you elaborate more on the role of dissonance in this song, and how it may reflect on that idea of an unnerving distance and space?
The role of dissonance musically, or philosophically ? 'Cause I think they are somehow intrinsically tied together. The cosmic order of the universe is imperfect; the forces of chaos and harmony always at war. The imperishable stars , however - are nearly eternal, yet aware of their of their own mortality, albeit on a time scale of billions of eons . They don’t really care about the humans on this tiny insignificant ball of dirt, yet they do not wish to be tarnished or their own light diminished by the stains of human failing, so they are moving the fuck away from us.
The dissonant chords and melodies reflect this sort of tension of time and space that is beyond human understanding , in a way that humans of course do not understand the cosmic order – that order is to our limited perspective incomprehensible and chaos , but that is only because we as humans are incapable of understanding the entirety of the vast -beyond comprehension expanse of the universe, and our place in it. It is our nature, when our ears hear that cosmic dissonance to be moved to either fear and avoidance, or to rejoice at the terrible beauty, because it is an undeniable voice intuitively reminding us of our own pitiful and tiny insignificance and meaningless in our universe .
I’d like to talk about the track “Where is the Wrathful Sky”, which is a yearning for an apocalypse I think it’s interesting to bring up the parallels of your influences you’ve cited for this song. In Ancient Egypt, the whole universe had a cyclical meaning, i.e. the annual floods bringing both necessary growth and devastation. Also with your other inspiration, Robert Malthus, observed the cycle of food production vs. the well being of the populace - again something that brings temporary fulfillment but also inevitable harm. In both cases, it seems that an apocalypse event is actually not always so dismal, but really just a necessary universal cycle. What is your takeaway from this song, and your thoughts on an apocalypse just as a means of natural progression?
The idea of destroying humanity to save the world is starting to have increasing resonance with many people these days. The more one thinks about it, the more inevitably one comes to see it as the only logical progression. However, we possess a natural survival instinct; so it’s a paradox. I am of the belief that humankind has already wiped itself out several times already. We are not the first advanced civilization on planet earth, nor will we be the last. Our true history of civilization is obscured to us because if common everyday people understood that the larger percentage of us humans NEED to be cyclically cleansed – we would have unimaginable chaos.
I also want to discuss the idea of duality in the song “We Are Cursed”. We see that duality is a big core truth in ancient Egyptian philosophy. Ma’at, for example, is the goddess of harmony, but is said to not be able to exist without her counterpart, Isfer, because they built a complementary and also paradoxical dualism. As far as your personal influence to this song, you talk about going to Egypt and seeing this extreme duality of extreme poverty and wealth side-by-side. Can you elaborate on your takeaway of the nature of duality? How much of it is just a part of the natural universe, and how much is man-made?
As far as the layman’s takeaway of “We Are Cursed “ is concerned , we are talking about the duality of man. One of the first natural laws we learn is: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. As a species, humans do things to live. Eat, learn, work, procreate, kill, die and all the stuff in-between to make the long journey from birth to death. But for everything that we gotta do – even just to live – there is an equal and opposite reaction, or expressed another way- consequence.
We are building up a huge karmic imbalance as a species – for which there is an equal and opposite karmic price, or “cost” And that is the foundation upon which rests our eternal curse as humans. For every good thing the Egyptians or any civilization has ever done, there has been an equal of amount of human suffering.
For the next two questions, I’m going to bring up two ancient Egyptian gods, and use them as a reference for a Nile-related idea:
So, the first is Khepre, who was one of the first gods, whose name means “he who has come into being”, and is symbolic of self-creation. Let’s gear that idea of self-creation into the idea of having a DIY ethic. Despite being on a major label, you’re still keeping up with grassroots by teaching guitar lessons. Can you elaborate on your teaching and why this connection is so important?
On one end, teaching helps pay the bills. More than that, teaching others forces us to explain things and to find ways of expressing ideas to help others learn. In the process, it deepens our own understanding of whatever it is we are trying to teach to others. This is very evident in martial arts. It is said that one does not truly start to learn until one already has a black belt, and part of that is because then one has to begin teaching the under belts. The act of teaching deepens the comprehension and internalization. All that leads to another paradox of understanding - the more that you learn about guitar , the more that you learn there is so MUCH MORE to learn. It's endless. There is more to learn than any one single person can achieve in one lifetime. So nowadays, I not only teach, but I also seek out guitar lessons. Does that make me anymore connected ? I don’t know.
Another deity is Ammit, the demonness that would devour the hearts of those who were condemned in The Weighing of the Heart ceremony. I like the idea that Ammit is consuming and living off of “condemned” resources, and comparing it with you how you consume a lot of inspirations that at one point where banned literature, i.e. Aleister Crowley and H.P. Lovecraft. Can you elaborate on the importance of exposing yourself to this “forbidden” knowledge And how does it relate to that idea of exercising knowledge from the new Nile song “That Which is Forbidden”?
Most people have no idea or grasp of the fact that we are, most of us, all merely farm animals living on a big tax farm, for the benefit of a selected few of our society. There is stuff that is forbidden to us that is for our own good, and then there is stuff forbidden, because if you’re the one running the tax farm, then you don’t want the pigs, chickens and cows to become smart enough to figure out that their entire purpose and destiny is to provide US with bacon, chicken rotisserie , and cheeseburgers. But so far, no one has been foolish enough to teach pigs, chickens and cows to read, or given to them the notion to read George Orwell. Probably , though, in all likelihood, if pigs and chickens ever did learn to read, they would probably spend all their time reading Reddit, liking cat memes , making self important comments on Facebook/Youtube, and looking at Cow Porn . The character in “That which is Forbidden” is a doomed character. He is driven by a sick ego, ambition and vanity – hoping to wrest from the gods things which he has no business participating in. That’s WHY the knowledge was forbidden in the first place, 'cause there are plenty of people who would fuck everything up were they allowed unlimited access to time and space travel .
On that note, I know you published that reading recommendation list, so how about a quick list of some of your favorite movies?
Lets see...Godzilla King of the Monsters, Raid Redemption , 300 , Dirty Harry , Starship Troopers , Once upon a Time in Hollywood, The Mummy 1933 Boris Karloff version.
You said how “Snake Pit Mating Frenzy” is the type of song to just purely rock out, headbang and get into the pit. What are some of your favorite songs (of any genre) that’s just pure adrenaline that makes you react that same way?
How 'bout "Ace of Spades" by Motorhead, "Stand up and Shout" by Dio , and "Immortal Rites" by Morbid Angel.
What else can we expect from you all in the near future?
To tour relentlessly like fiends in support of this new album :)
All interviews posted before October 2015 were originally recorded for KAMP Student Radio.