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This is a nice little release which neatly showcases Nile in an even more primitive form than on their 'Beneath The Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka' debut album. You could actually confuse the first five tracks on this compilation for a rather progressive breed of death/thrash at times; the vocals are lighter, the riffs not as complicated as their later material, and the atmospheric, Egyptian portions cheesier than ever. It's probably Nile at their least pretentious (which is still pretty pretentious), so it has a certain charm to it that's missing on most other Nile releases. It's nice to hear the band before they TOTALLY exploded.
The first five tracks are the real meat of this disc. Coming from the 'Festivals Of Atonement' EP from 1995, they showcase Nile in probably the most primordial state that most of us will ever hear. The songs are only slightly technical and are quite close to oldschool, traditional death metal in construction. Drumming is less fill-laden and the riffs aren't as ornamental, with some sections being reduced really to their barest elements as opposed to latter Nile's philosophy of 'if a note can be added, add it immediately'. Egyptian-type scales are lightly used but probably more effective due to their subtlety instead of being clubbed over the head with them on albums like 'In Their Darkened Shrines'. People who are infatuated with later Nile are likely to find these tracks too slow, too simple, and not Egyptian enough, but I find the restraint to be a rather pleasing feature. It's not incredible music, but it's strongly written with many memorable riffs and is worth listening to. They give a funnily raw interpretation of later Nile elements such as sprawling track lengths and clever riff construction. I like them a lot.
The following three tracks aren't really as impressive, coming from the 'Ramses Bringer Of War' EP featuring three tracks that would be later rerecorded for 'Amongst The Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka'. They're good, although they do show signs of some of later Nile's more dubious characteristics. There's not a substantial difference between these tracks and the versions that would appear on the band's debut album; they're somewhat simpler and don't have as many instrumental flourishes, and the production is of course not as full, but for all intents and purposes, they're the same. Consider these bonus tracks more than anything; 'Festivals Of Atonement' is the real meat of this release that you'll be coming back to repeatedly.
While only the first five tracks are particularly consequential, I'd say that this compilation is worth picking up for them alone. Alongside 'Amongst The Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka', this is a worthwhile release for oldschool death metal fans who've never been able to understand the fuss over Nile on the basis of their later material. This isn't their strongest, being a bit rawer and prone to wandering like a lost puppy in the longer tracks, but it has very solid songwriting and a more humble delivery which would make it more palatable to traditional death metal fans. Not as essential as 'Amongst The Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka', but still worth a look.
Nile is one of the bands that have built up a remarkable reputation and influence upon an original idea, and unlike many bands in the MA with such a fanatic following and opinion-splitting attitude, they have kept their course and stayed out of the more "commercial" forms of metal. It can be said, with some justification, that they have been unable to renew their ideas and that the egyptian-influenced death metal is approaching the end of it's shelf-life. While some tomb-mold is perhaps forming on the embalmed features of the pharaohs of metal, they still inhabit their very own niche, and remain an instantly recognizable speciality, without excessively relying on their gimmick value. I've liked their works so far, especially the Black Seeds of Vengeance album, but maybe they should rethink their formula before the next full-length. They are certainly capable of such a move: Saurian Meditation by Karl Sanders alone is a proof of a wider creativity and understanding of music, despite retaining the oriental thematics. They cannot go much more brutal without losing their edge, and perhaps a softer approach might rejuvenate something essential.
In the Beginning is a treat for the Nile fans who discovered the band too late to get a copy of either the Festivals of Atonement or Ramses Bringer of War. Compiling the two on a single CD creates an interesting album, and allows us to observe a very rapid progression from relatively mildly oriental death metal to full-blown egyptian Nile in two short years. Yes, the band went from a First Dynasty proto-Nile sound to the ingenious Fourth Dynasty builders of death metal pyramids in two years. And this release contains the proof. The combination of the two is the key to the interest I have in this compilation.
The first half, Festivals of Atonement, actually isn't that far from standard death metal, with a dash of Egypt in the music, a shot glass in every solo, and by the pint in the lyrics. If one of the great death metal bands of the early 90's, say Morbid Angel, had made a song with a theme from Middle East, the results could well have been something like the average Atonement song. The production perhaps hides some aspects, as it is different from the subsequent works, and on the average the songs are slowish compared to what was to come. The second half, Ramses Bringer of War, is pure brilliance. The title song epitomizes the guaranteed Nile quality, and Die Rache Krieg Lied der Assyriche is probably my all time favourite Nile song; it forces an ominous metal mentality and the soundtrack of Conan the Barbarian by Basil Poledouris into a canopic jar to mingle with someone's dessicated liver. The Nile we all know hatched from the egg during the two years between the two releases. The astronomical difference between the styles of the two is the real spice in this, and possibly accidentally so. Maybe the sincere idea was to provide the fans a treat, or maybe to make the supply meet the demand and cash in, but in the process they created a window into their own history. By placing the two side by side they reveal the path they took and charged from one end to the other like a flock of camels in heat during a midnight feeding frenzy.
In the Beginning is not the album to start with if you wish to get to know the band. Buy one of the full-lenghts instead. It defends it's place as a curiosity for the die-hard fan, and provides something nice for us, the normal people, too. Including the forgivable mediocrity of Festivals of Atonement means, however, that the superior originality of the later works is not there, and that will give a lukewarm start to anyone not already familiar with Nile. Neither is the compilation a necessity. If you already possess Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka, you have the best songs on the CD, and the rest is non-essential.
Could they produce another such anthology of progression? No. Not yet, and not without breaking their tested blueprint on at least one future album. Ever since the release of Nephren-Ka they have pretty much stayed where they already were at the time. Die Rache Krieg Lied is still their pinnacle, and even a best-of compilation album would just sound like a studio album with little variance. Maybe they have sped up a bit, increased a little in brutality and added a dose of finesse, but changes in sound, production and songwriting have been minimal, after all, and they have not strayed far from their own beaten path. As whole albums every single full-length they have released has been a display of musical marksmanship and brutality of exceptional skill, and surpass this compilation of early works with ease, but they have not truly changed anything, either. Were they to have another two years of equal progression, the end result would certainly reconnoiter areas we have never seen before. We can always hope for that.