Karl Sanders is a hidden gem in the world of metal, but only because his band, Nile, misses the mainstream by a long shot. Which is unfortunate for a band that features not only Sanders on guitar but drumming marvel George Kollias. Yet Nile as a whole remains unique because of the band's incredible musicality and their fascination with themes ranging from Egyptology, mysticism and ancient religions to nearly every other antiquarian subject in between.
This is the gift of metal. Themes like that would find little traction or interest in most other genres, but draw plenty of serious discussion among metal geeks. And if you really want to get archaeological with your technical black-metal fix, Nile is your staple band.
Sanders is certainly frugal and precise when it comes to touring. In fact, he refuses to tour with anyone else. While that may sound selfish, it’s actually the blueprint for an effective touring strategy: namely, using local bands in each market. (Wednesday's Houston show at Scout Bar features the Houston-area bands Aegis, Malevolent Force and Sacrocurse opening.)
Sanders's impetus for such a move actually sounds magnanimous.
“Well, a couple things, really," he says. "I noticed a few years back that on these large tour packages, many times the local bands get left out. And with a large tour package, the ticket prices reflect that — you know, you gotta pay the bands, the bus, everything, the driver, the crew. It cuts out half the audience the higher the ticket price goes, so between those two things, it occurred to me that there needed to be opportunities for [bands to] learn and grow and promote themselves and improve their craft.”
“I want to [help] build a following," sums up Sanders. "Local bands just don’t have proper outlets to do that, unfortunately.”
But Sanders isn't just interested in helping local acts. He’s also cognizant of his fans.
“I thought this was a situation that needed to be addressed," he says. "Sometimes the costs of these little shows are just prohibitive. Especially in tough economic times. Who has money to drop $60 on a metal ticket, you know? If you have a girlfriend or whatever, it’s already over $100 just to get in the door. I mean, come on: Metal shows shouldn’t be more than $20.”
Nile's latest release, What Should Not Be Unearthed, is a forwardly aggressive album — leaner, faster and a definite shift from their previous release, At the Gate of Sethu. That album was met with negative criticism, so for Sanders, the shift was purposeful and corrective.
"It’s an aggressive record, and I think in the production issue and choices that were made for At the Gate of Sethu didn’t appeal to everybody," he explains. "There was a lot things we wanted to address with this record, give the really big, heavy-sounding record and streamline the songs a little bit.
That’s where I think casual listeners get a little bit lost when you have song structures that tend to riff ideas that aren’t immediate," continues Sanders. "So, you play a riff in thirteens, then this one person casually listening isn’t going to say, ‘Oh, it’s in thirteens, then, it goes to a nine, and a step up here and then a change of key’" [laughs].
But considering that Nile is technical, the shift away from so much complexity may feel like too much of a departure for true Nile fans. Sanders isn’t worried, though.
“They don’t care about that," he says. "The average listener just goes, ‘Well, do I like it?’ Is it cool?’ And if they say no, then okay. And I think there’s something simplistically beautiful about that. So you know with the new record, we tried not to be too technical for you, just write some songs people will enjoy.”
He explains what fans can look forward to hearing Wednesday night. “We’re playing old stuff and new stuff. We’re promoting a new record, obviously, and you can’t not play what the fans want to hear. The fans are all-important. To me, they’re top of the priority list.” Which is a statement he stands by, considering he has an open Facebook account with a message option. it's pretty rare for a rock star of his caliber — but whatever you do, just don't pull out your cell phone during his performance.
If you haven’t heard the latest release, start with “Call to Destruction” and “Rape of a Black Earth,” on which Sanders takes on some pretty sizable enemies. He's definitely not afraid to share some stark opinions on ISIS's recent destruction of ancient Islamic artifacts.
“I thought something needed to be said," Sanders says. "The destruction of historical artifacts across the Middle East is a shame and really a crime against humanity. This was my way of doing it; I can write a song about it. I don’t have a plane to go bomb these fuckers, so this is my way of trying to help.”
Lyrically, the latest record also speaks to some kind of higher obscure intelligence, another fascinating topic for metal geeks. Sanders grows enthusiastic when talking about his archaeophilia and other bits of ancient subject matter.
"There are many people who ask, ‘Who built the pyramids?’ or ‘Was it aliens?’ you know, or alternative primitive beginnings," he continues. “These are some pretty fascinating questions and in an entertainment context, you could look at H.P. Lovecraft and others. They ask the very same questions, with incredible horror novels out of them. I’m just following along in that tradition.”
Nile performs with special guests Malevolent Force, Aegis and Sacrocurse Wednesday night at Scout Bar, 18307 Egret Bay Boulevard, Clear Lake. Doors open at 7 p.m.
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Kristy Loye is a writer living in Houston and has been writing for the Houston Press since July 2015. A recent Rice University graduate, when not teaching writing craft or reciting poetry, she's upsetting alt-rights on Reddit.