For metal purists, some bands shine for the technical skills of their musicians, and while some people may not see a need for face-melting solos and 8-string guitars, others consider them a necessary element in a genre that, sometimes, risks oversimplifying itself and turning into a harder version of pop.
In the realm of death metal, bands such as a Nile and Meshuggah have made a name for themselves, in part, thanks to the immense abilities of their members, who’ve proven that skills are not limited to progressive bands like Dream Theater and Symphony X. And in the case of Nile, it is Karl Sanders, its founder and main composer, who’s responsible for bringing the band to its current level of success. Having recently released a new album, “At the Gates of Sethu”, Nile will soon embark on a European tour, after taking a break from the European festivals where the band devoted itself to bring some of their “Egyptian metal” to the masses.
It is in one of these festivals, the Bloodstock Open Air, where we meet with Karl.
True heaviness and dark spiritual musicalities don’t necessarily depend upon Marshall stacks, big drum kits and big walls of sound.
Note: When I said “hi” to Karl, he immediately mentioned that he had just finished an interview with someone who didn’t even know his name, which explains our odd start.
MB: Hi Karl, nice to meet you, thanks for doing this.
Karl: At least you know my name, the other guy didn’t even know it.
MB: This guy really didn’t know your name or your albums? Nothing?
Karl: He had no idea who I was.
MB: Is this the first time that this happens to you?
Karl: Every once in a while it does happen; I try not to get insulted about it, you know? But I feel like people should take metal journalism seriously. If you’re going to be a metal journalist, you should care about your job.
MB: I guess I’d also be concerned with pissing off whoever it is I’m interviewing!
Karl: I agree. Anytime two human beings are interacting I think there should be some kind of courtesy and respect exchanged.
MB: Knowing the name would be one of those things..
Karl: That would be one of them…
MB: Your solo albums. “Saurian Meditations” and “Saurian Exorcisms”, represent a style that is very different from that of Nile, as it is a more atmospheric style. Is this why you wanted to do it separately? Did you think that it simply wouldn’t fit with Nile?
Karl: The style is…
[Karl sees me operate my phone, so I explain that my questions are written there and that I’m not texting]
Karl: You’d be surprised! I’ve been doing interviews where somebody gets a text and starts texting… people are crazy nowadays!
[I show him the questions on the phone]
Karl: See? Now that’s preparation.
MB: People come without questions?!
Karl: There are some people that even show up with no recorder and expect to write it down with a pencil and paper. In fact, and this is a cool story, we were in Dublin, Ireland, and the guy wanted to write down everything with a pencil and paper. We do the first two questions, he scribbles something and I say “Well, let me have a look at that”… and he had taken these beautifully thought-out answers and reduced them down to two words. I said “Dude, I’d love to do the interview, but please, can we do this with a recorder so that it turns out OK?”; He actually got insulted and wanted to argue. He took out a whole page blog calling me names!
Anyway, back to your question.
Saurian Meditations originally started because on tour, with Nile, I have so much death metal every day, between sound check and the other support bands, that it’s literally 5 or 6 hours of death metal every single day of the week; so when I get home, I wanna do something a bit more quiet, to get a little balance.
[When] I was playing and recording the music for Saurian there was no thought that it’d actually be anything, I was just doing it for personal relaxation, for my own calming and trying to get a balance in my life. Matt Jacobson, of Relapse Records, suggested that people would probably love to hear this, so I said “why not? I’ll share it”.
MB: Well, you say “I wanted something more quiet”, but at the same time it’s not really quiet, is it? If anything, it’s a rather stressful music with a dark and ominous feeling to it.
Karl: I think that true heaviness and dark spiritual musicalities don’t necessarily depend upon Marshall stacks, big drum kits and big walls of sound.
MB: It worked for Wagner and Carl Orff.
Karl: Exactly! I love Carl Orff… I’ve stolen so many things from him.
[With] real music you should be able to get those dark moods using normal instruments, if you’re really making music. So that’s the thing with the Saurian albums, it does get dark, it does get involved, and it does it without using big blazing walls of electric guitars.
MB: Last year you re-released your very first demo, Worship the Enemy. Why did you want to do it?
Karl: First of all, I didn’t! I got a phone call from our ex-drummer, Pete Hammoura – we have been friends for like 30 years – and he said “hey man; times are tough, the economy is awful, I gotta make my house payments… I know you don’t wanna re-release this demo, I know you don’t want anybody to hear it… but I really need the money, would you consider it?”.
When a friend of yours for 30 years asks you for something like that, and him making his house payments is a yes-or-no thing, if you’re any kind person, you’ll say yes.
MB: Would you say that the economic situation for musicians, even for a band like Nile, which is of a considerable size, is still very hard? That it’s still hard to make a living out of this?
Karl: Absolutely. We have to be very careful when we tour to actually come home with money, because even though you’re on tour and you’re having fun playing music and meeting fans, the bills still have to paid, the electric company still expects their payments, the house payments, car insurance, gas in the car… GAS! Jesus Christ! Look at the price of gasoline lately
MB: Going back to Nile. When did your interest in Egyptology start and how did you decide to transform this interest, together with that in other ancient civilizations, into a band?
Karl: It started when I was a kid; my dad was very fond of epic movies, like Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, Land of the Pharaos, Sodom and Gomorrah… anything with Cecil B. DeMille, my dad loved that shit. So as a kid, I was an impressionable 8 or 10-year old, and I kind of got interested in it, not only in the history but also in the music that they used in these movies to tell the stories. So, years later, when I found myself in a metal band and found ourselves with the name “Nile”, I went… “What would one write if one were in a band called Nile…”
MB: Of course, there’s a lot to be told still, but do you ever fear that dwelling on the same topics might ever become boring?
Karl: I don’t feel that. For other people, for who that might be the case, I would say that there’s plenty of metal bands singing about plenty of different things, take your pick. This is what we’re doing, we’re having fun, we enjoy what we’re doing, and I have no fear of ever running out of source material… with all the history that there is, come on.
MB: H.P. Lovecraft is another one of your “sources”, are there other authors that you feel interested enough in so as to justify writing music about their works?
Karl: Edgar Rice-Burroughs was an early favorite of mine; Robert Howards, Lin Carterm, Herbert…
MB: Next year is the 20th anniversary of the beginning of Nile.
Karl: Every interviewer tells me so.
MB: Are you planning on doing anything?
Karl: No, but I’m taking suggestions.
Karl: If you bring some girls… ok.
MB: Have you ever thought about playing in Egypt.
Karl: I’d love to play in Egypt, I’d love to! Is it possible?…
MB: Well, a “Live from Egypt” DVD would be a great thing..
MB: But I don’t think the environment is really welcoming to death metal right now.
Karl: It’s not conducive.
MB: Did you ever hear from Chris Lollis as to why he went AWOL?
Karl: Yes, I finally heard from him. He returned from his awolness.
MB: Was he finding himself in India? An Eat-Pray-Love sort of thing?
Karl: Yeah, that’s a good one… trying to find himself. The reasons for Chris disappearing are now known to the band, but we don’t talk about them, it’d probably be a disservice to Chris.
MB: How do you feel about the metal scene nowadays? Are there current metal bands that you listen to?
Karl: Lecherous Nocturne is a band that I love; Fleshgod Apocalypse, Krisiun, Immolation… fuck yes!
MB: You have been called one of the best heavy metal guitar players of all time by Decibel Magazine. Do you see yourself as that talented?
Karl: Well, there are guys that didn’t even make that list that I have an immense amount of respect for.
MB: For example?
Karl: Moyses Kolesne [from Krisiun], I take guitar lessons from him once in a while; Rusty Cooley didn’t make that list but, man, I take lessons from him, so what does that say?
I think that lists are kind of a guideline, but they’re not absolute.
MB: There’s always a subjective element to it, but the people who end up in the top 10 or 20 are there because they’re very good; so do you think that you have reached a point in your career as a guitarist in which you’ve actually surpassed most of the competition? Without false modesty!
Karl: I think in terms that you’re never too good to stop learning and keep growing. I think in down to earth terms: “Am I as good as I can be? as I one day will be?”. I still have a lot to do, there’s still guitar playing that I want to achieve, so I don’t think about those things, that’s for other people to think about.
For me, I just keep playing, keep practicing and keep learning.
MB: When you ask a guitar player what their advice is, it’s always “practice”. So, for a change, what do you think people should NOT do when they’re learning? What are the mistakes they should avoid?
Karl: The first thing is, whatever people say online… try not to listen to it, and that’s very tough.
MB: You mean online guitar lessons?
Karl: No, get online lessons, absolutely. There’s a wealth of knowledge as a guitar player in these times to be gleaned from others online; I’m saying don’t listen to what other people fucking say, because the true judge of yourself is when you listen to yourself. If you want to make progress, you have to use your ear, and you have to listen to yourself, that’s more important.
MB: Did Todd Ellis, your new bass player, change the outcome of your latest album?
Karl: Todd wasn’t on the album. A lot of people are under that presumption, but he’s not. Dallas played the bass in the album.
MB: I screwed up in my research! I guess since he joined before the release then people assumed he also took part in it…
Karl: It’s a natural assumption, but we had a Black Dahlia Murder tour scheduled immediately when we finished the record. Chris went AWOL while we were making the record and threw all of our plans into disarray, so we hired Todd and were training him on the live sets while we were trying to make the record… to have put upon Todd the immense task of also learning all the songs well enough to play them on the record would be too big a thing; it was enough a mountain of work just to learn the live set
MB: Regarding the reaction to your latest album, especially in concerts, do you see that people react positively or that they still prefer the old material?
Karl: Well, from what I see, standing on the stage, looking into the audience, I see them enjoying the new songs. When we played the new track, “Supreme Humanism of Megalomania” on the Black Dahlia Murder tour, a lot of people stopped what they were doing to stand there and listen; they would stop moshing, they would stop doing whatever it is they were doing, and stand and listen.
MB: Do you think that your music is so complex that it actually requires such long titles?
Karl: [laughs] We just name the songs what they need to be named. If it is “Enduring the Eternal Molestation of Flame”… could you really express that same thing if you shortened it to “Enduring”?
MB: It is hard to reflect the sexual abuse of flames in any other terms.
MB: Is there a possibility of perfoming your solo material live, or is it just not made for a live setting?
Karl: A. It is not made for a live setting and B. I also have a family that I have to occasionally pay attention to and act like a parent once in a while, so to tour two different bands, Nile and a solo career, would be unfair to my family, who also needs me at home.
MB: And are there any more solo albums in the future?
Karl: I really want to get started on the next one, I’ve got a lot of ideas floating around up here so, hopefully, during the next break that we’ve got I’ll have some time to devote to it,
MB: Any final messages for your fans?
Karl: Keep it brutal! Keep it metal!