Nile’s Karl Sanders: The Gun Shy Interview

Karl Sanders

You know, I’m a dick. For a good two weeks there, I was feeling lukewarm about the new record from tech death metal masters Nile. I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not, but I have to admit: At the Gates of Sethu is a solid release, with incendiary guitar riffs and punishing drums.

I was like a lot of people; skeptical after getting my first taste, and too impatient to let things simmer. In fact, many people took to the internet to bash the band after Nile released “The Fiends Who Come to Steal the Magick of the Deceased” online for streaming.

I recall not long after, Karl Sanders — Nile’s guitarist and frontman — took to his personal Facebook account to bemoan the shit talk.

I spoke with Karl this week, and had to ask him how that negative response made him feel.

“It kind of reminds me of back when we put out [2005‘s] Annihilation of the Wicked, and the first single we put out was ‘Lashed to the Slave Stick,’ which at the time was a very different song for us,” says Sanders.

“It was like a middle-ranged tempo with a lot of groove to it, and very catchy kind of vocals, and very rhythmic kind of patterns to everything, and even though it had some faster blasting and screaming in the middle, a lot of people weren’t ready to accept it,” Karl continues. “Years down the line, it’s a concert favorite of the fans. We play it at every fucking show, and it always gets a huge moshpit going, so…I tried to keep that in perspective. When you smash fans over the head with some elements they’re not prepared for, there is going to be some backlash. That’s the reality and the truth of the things. Is that personally disappointing to me? Well, there are a lot of things about the internet that are disappointing, but if you listen to every stupid motherfucker out there who thinks they know what the songs are about, you would have to commit harikari as a fucking artist.”

I love that Karl spatters his speech with F-bombs. He’s the man. I told him after numerous listens, my feelings started to sway towards liking the new disc…after questioning its merits at first. To this, Sanders said, “I commend you and have high respect for you.”

Fucking rad. So, Karl says he didn’t let it get him down too bad.

“You can’t possibly please everybody,” he says, “all you can really fucking do is try your best. I personally put a lot of work into the musicianship; I take guitar lessons and practice hours and hours every day. That’s what my focus is; there’s an incredible wealth of guitar playing and different creative song arrangements and different things where we tried to do to try and expand what we do a little bit. Those are positive things. Will everybody appreciate them? Probably not.”

So what do you do as an artist? “The opposite alternative is to remain in artistic neutral and just keeping putting out the same fucking record every time because we know people will fucking love it if we just go as fast as we can, which is pretty fucking fast,” says Sanders.

“To tell you the truth, playing fast for two decades, we think we know what we’re fucking doing. But that’s not the be all, end all of musicianship. There are a lot of things that can be done with music, and I refuse to accept that Chris Barnes-style vocals are the limit of what you can do with death metal vocals. That’s fucking preposterous, and for those folks, I would suggest going back and getting out your copy of [Cannibal Corpse’s] Hammer Smashed Face, because that’s as fucking good as it gets; it doesn’t get fucking better. That is a penultimate, and that was done years ago. Is anybody going to do any motherfucking better? Maybe, maybe not — whose to say. But, there’s other things I wanna do, man, and other things to reach for, to strive for, and try to achieve with music.”

Amen, dude. Keep doing your thing. I had to ask Karl, though — given most people consider him the ultimate guitarist, who the hell does he take fucking guitar lessons from?!?

“I take lessons from a couple of different people,” says Karl. “A classical professor in my hometown, Shawn Allen — he teaches at the University of Asheville. And Rusty Cooley; I see him once or twice a year, and those lessons are really fucking jam packed. He plays, I watch and I fucking soak it up, man.”

Sanders refutes the suggestion he’s one of the best guitarists on the planet, which seems like something he’d do.

“You can never possibly be the best — it’s not fucking possible,” he tells me. “It’s like kung fu; no matter how good you get, there’s always someone who will probably fucking beat you. So then I must ask myself, if it’s impossible to be the best, what can I do? Rusty Cooley says all you can do is be the best you can be and make music that’s interesting. And there it is — fuck yeah!”

Sanders, who says Nile will be touring next February in the states and is mulling an invite to the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise, has yet to see Egypt, the land he is so fascinated with. I had to talk to him about this.

“There were plans to go last year when we went to Dubai, and then fucking Egypt’s fucking revolution happened, and pissed on my plans,” Karl groans. “As a death metal guitarist, trying to scrounge a living together, nice fucking holiday vacations to the other side of the world don’t grow on trees. I have enough trouble just paying the bills. I am — what’s the word? — bothered by the irony that as long as I play death metal for a living, I probably won’t be able to afford a vacation to go to Egypt.

“Think about that for a minute,” he says. “Life is like a card game; you get dealt a set of cards and what you do is all according to how you play the cards you are dealt. I am happy; I’m playing music and I have shit to look forward to…I have goals in my life, shit I want to accomplish. So, I’m not bummed; I get up every day and I have focus. I have shit to do, and goals, and I am going to achieve ‘em.”

Of course, I had to ask Karl about glory holes, as I always do. Has he ever seen one in his travels with Nile?

“In my wealth if life experiences, I have never come across one so I have nothing to say on the topic,” Sanders says, in a tone of voice that suggests maybe I freaked him out. I tell him I am trying to disprove glory holes as myth.

“Maybe it should be on that ‘Mythbusters’ show,” he offers, laughing. “That would be funny. I could just see that one. That would be funny as fuck.”

It would, dude — it would.

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