Latest release: At the Gate of Sethu (Nuclear Blast)

When you’re a death metal band with the standing and legacy of Nile, perhaps the riskiest thing you can do is implement stylistic change. Yet with their seventh full length album At the Gate of Sethu, due in July, the Greenville, SC, veterans have tweaked the formula that has made them one of the premier bands of their chosen style.

“We were really interested in seeing what possibilities there were for finding some new vocal expressions,” explains founder and frontman Karl Sanders cheerfully. “One of the things we wanted to address about the other Nile records is that all of the vocals sounded the same. And I thought to myself, as much as one could have opposing viewpoints on that issue, I myself wouldn’t mind hearing some different tonalities in the vocals and different phrasings and some new ideas. It’s kind of why we did that. Some different vocal styles, some different guest vocalists.”

To that end, Sanders broadens his usual concrete-larynx vocal approach and experiments with a variety of tones from bowel-rumbling growls to thrash- and punk-like sprays and even snatches of what serves as clean vocals in the Nile universe. Typically, early feedback on this move has been varied and stark.

“I’ve already seen the reaction on the Internet,” Sanders says. “There’s songs streaming online. I’d say it’s very polarised. There are people who like it and there are people who don’t appreciate it whatsoever.”

The other noticeable aspect of Nile’s music this time is the comparatively short lengths of the tracks. The longest, “The Chaining of the Iniquitous” is just over seven minutes, while the rest average come in around three to five.

“I wanted to have shorter songs this time to perhaps make a greater focus for each song,” Sanders says of this idea. Streamline them and cut them down to their essential elements.”

In the past, both Sanders and guitar partner Dallas Toller-Wade have talked about the length of time it takes them to compose their band’s elaborately technical – and often very, very long – tracks. Shortening their songs doesn’t seem to have made that task any less time-consuming. In fact, as Sanders points out, “It was a longer process.”

“The song writing process with us seems to be chopping out parts rather than trying to come up with more parts,” he says. “All our songs start out really fucking long, so it’s all about cutting out parts and leaving the best parts.”

The result is an album about ten minutes shorter than 2009’s Those Whom the Gods Detest and 2002’s epic In Their Darkened Shrines, but fans afraid they may have abandoned their principle concepts need not lose any sleep. Only one track sees Nile veering away from their usual explorations of ancient Egyptian texts.

“The challenge is for a band to maintain its identity yet try things that are a little bit outside their comfort zone now and then,” Sanders says. “For instance, one of the songs comes from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The track ‘Natural Liberation of Fear Through the Ritual Deception of Death’ comes from the Tibetan Book of the Dead.”

Sanders also makes the point that despite Nile’s lyrical concept being grounded heavily in the writings of ancient Egypt – with occasional detours into Lovecraftian subjects – often the songs are a metaphor for events in the modern world. He points to the apparently oxymoronically-titled “Supreme Humanism of Megalomania” as a case in point.

“Taken in its proper context – the ancient Egyptian pharaohs – it makes sense,” he says. “At that point the apparently two disjointed concepts find their cross point. Even beyond that, I’m kind of referring, in a back-handed way, to the 99% movement like the Occupy Wall Street, Occupy New York. 1% of the population controls all the wealth, and 99% of the population lives in a lower standard of living in order to support the wealth of the 1%. Which is exactly coinciding with what I’m talking about with the ancient Egpytian pharaohs and the megalomaniacal monument building and the enslaving of thousands of people to basically fulfill a silly human need to be important.”

His band’s obsessive study of Egyptology has developed a wisdom in Karl Sanders that isn’t necessarily a very optimistic one. He sees parallels between those mystical and extinct times and those of today and makes some grim predictions about humanity.

“I believe there’s nothing new under the sun. Human beings are the same despicable creatures that we’ve been for thousands of years. We might have better technology now, but we’re still the same animals,” he says. “Lately I’ve been concerned by the population explosion on Planet Earth. What I see from many governments around the world in the destruction of the working class. I see some really dark and bleak future ahead for mankind.”

Sometime in the immediate future, however, Karl Sanders is hoping he can bring Nile to Australia once more, to play for the fans and hang out with some old friends.

“We’re real good friends with Brad and Dysie [from Soundworks Touring], and every time we come to Australia they always treat us well. We always have a cook-out with Brad and his family and friends, and that’s always a blast. Man, that guys knows how to have a BBQ!”