Nile, with King Diamond and Behemoth

Like ancient embalmers, Nile can yank brains out of earholes. This musically and intellectually intimidating outfit combines death-metal riffs with amateur Egyptologist Karl Sanders's meticulously researched lyrics. Annihilation of the Wicked, its forthcoming fifth record, combines cerebral content and cathartic noise. Its inhumanly swift concerts conjure the ghost of John Henry, hammering himself to an early grave. Former drummer Pete Hammoura was the group's first casualty: Nile's blast beats cost him his shoulder and, subsequently, his seat behind the kit. "The Burning Pits of the Duat," a punishing track from Annihilation, might claim more victims with its tendonitis-tempting guitar work. Also in excruciating pain are the song's subjects, who are immolated and incinerated. Death metal often deals in torture tactics and gory stories, but most of these tales are products of supernaturally sadistic imaginations. By contrast, real people were "Lashed to the Slave Stick," beaten and beheaded, and Sanders draws upon historical texts to describe these harrowing happenings. The group musically mimics the atrocities it describes, doing its best imitations of flaming pits and methodical mutilations. It also plays centuries-old modal harmonies on authentic Egyptian instruments, waking sleeping spirits like the mystical music box in the Simpsons' "Isis" exhibit.

It may be hard to believe, but ol' King Diamond has been doing this theatrical metal thing since...well, since the days that Alice Cooper was still relevant. While you could argue that his tenure as lead vocalist for Mercyful Fate was superior to his solo career, he and his band have managed to maintain momentum and a certain level of credibility over the last 20 years. Given that most metal maniacs -- especially ones who are multi-octave showmen with a penchant for monologues and over-the-top stage work -- lose the plot when a new rock style or generation takes over, the longevity of this crazy Dane is impressive to say the least. And when we say crazy, we mean wacky, a guy who still does supertheatrical shows in a bowler hat and KISS-like face paint. Granted, he may not have the huge fan base of other dramatic metal showmen such as Marilyn Manson or Slipknot, but he's got a lot more credibility in hard-to-please metal circles.

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Andrew Miller
Chris True