KARL SANDERS - Exorcise And Chill

September 9, 2022, 3 weeks ago

By Carl Begai

feature heavy metal karl sanders nile

KARL SANDERS - Exorcise And Chill

Karl Sanders is best known as frontman and founder of Egyptian-influenced technical death metallers, Nile. His soft-spoken demeanour doesn't even hint at that, as he comes across much more in line with the Chill Don't Kill vibe of his new solo album, Saurian Apocalypse. Diehard fans of Sanders' river god rage are familiar with this other side of his musical personality, as he released two solo albums in 2004 and 2009 - Saurian Meditation and Saurian Exorcisms respectively - that were cut from the same cloth. The foundation for Sanders' primarily instrumental acoustic-based solo records was built, however, on the same ground that gives Nile their bludgeoning Middle Eastern-nuanced sound. This offers Sanders a well-prepared audience for his material, at the same time attracting people who cringe at the mere thought of crushing guitars and demonic vocals. Sanders says it's a gratifying position to be in at this stage of his career.

"I like to use the word 'grateful.' I'm grateful other people enjoy this music. When I started making this music it wasn't intended for an audience; it was just for my own sanity that I needed to make some quiet music. But I played some of the songs for Matt Jacobson, who used to be the head of Relapse Records, and he insisted that I share this stuff with people. So, I eventually agreed to put it out there, which became my first solo album, Saurian Meditation."

Saurian Apocalypse, released 18 years after Saurian Exorcisms, came to life during the global pandemic that brought normal daily life to a halt from 2020 to 2022, which is a surprise to exactly nobody.

"I had no possible excuse not to work on it," Sanders laughs. "I was so busy during the pandemic it was crazy. Not only was I doing this album, I was taking guitar lessons, I was giving guitar lessons, I was re-inventing my guitar playing. I had all kinds of time to practice. When you're touring and you have a family, one of the first things that's gotta go is those long hours of woodshedding. As you get older, your day starts disappearing, so the pandemic was a gift from the metal gods over here (laughs)."

Saurian Apocalypse picks up where Saurian Exorcisms left off seemingly without missing a beat. In spite of such a long gap between records, Sanders says it wasn't difficult to go from his Nile mindset to something at the opposite end of the spectrum.

"Once I get into that zone, I'm in that zone because the vibe is so completely different from Nile. Nile is crushing death metal; it's a big guy swinging a really big baseball bat really fast. There's a lot of force behind it. The Saurian stuff is very chill; it's like you're sitting there watching crocodiles just chilling out in the water. They're perfectly still, and if you look into their eyes it's a deep, deep almost unearthly kind of calm that a lot of reptiles have. Nile and the Saurian albums are two totally different things. Saurian Apocalypse is non-metal music for people that are metal. I've dedicated my life to death metal and I love metal in general, but every once-in-a-while I need some fucking peace and quiet (laughs)."

Some reviews of Saurian Apocalypse suggest the album is merely business as usual for Sanders when it comes to his Egyptian / Middle Eastern musical influences shining through. You be the judge, but Sanders says he was inspired by several different things going in to write the new record.

"There were a couple catalysts. One of them - and you can hear it directly in the song 'The Evil Inherent In Us All' - I was in Cairo, and I was taken to a bunch of musical performances featuring various indigenous Egyptian things. One of them was a night of North African exorcisms and... wow. It was in this old theater and there were these ensembles, where there would be anywhere from three people to 15 people playing this music that's meant to drive away evil spirits. It's not necessarily exorcism in the way Americans think of it; it's more like making music that is so full of strong, positive waves, and it drives away negative energies. It has a lot of percussion, and I vividly remember thinking that if I had a guitar at that moment I would have wanted to jam with those musicians. The whacked out shit we could do would be so much fun. That drove a lot of the ideas for the new album; the percussion, the way the guitar works with the rhythm, the whole African vibe."

Although it may sound cliché to suggest it was therapeutic for Sanders to get away from death metal in favour of composing Saurian Apocalypse, he agrees with the assessment.

"Absolutely. The word therapeutic is a good one to use because there was a lot of therapy going on finding a way to be peaceful. One of the tracks on this record, 'Mask Of Immutable Self Delusion", it came from a friend of mine that I'd known since childhood dying. He drank himself to death. It was really hard to record that track. I'm not a weepy kind of person but it was difficult to do, but once I'd done it, somehow I was able to deal with his passing."

Asked if he had complete confidence changing gears and getting back into his Saurian mode, Sanders admits there wasn't nearly as much trepidation compared to starting work on a new Nile record.

"I experience that a lot with Nile (laughs). Somebody once wrote: 'Nile's biggest enemy is Nile's own back catalogue.' I don't feel that way about the Saurian material because it's low stress music. It's a chill vibe, so probably even if I tried, I couldn't write one of those pieces to sound like one of the previous Saurian records. It's so intimately tied to my hands and whatever other instruments I'm bringing in that there's an organic quality to it. I'm not the same person that I was 15 or 20 years ago."

"I was sitting in this chair with my acoustic guitar, just playing, and hit the record button when I had something," he continues. "That was the basis for these new tracks. It was all about the guitar playing, and sometimes jamming with the percussion. There were very simple foundational things that got filled out with other elements, but the core was just my hands on the guitar."

"There were people that contributed to the music (George Kollias, Matthew Kay, Rusty Cooley, Pete Hammoura, Mike Breazeale, Mustafa Stefan Dill) but I didn't tell them exactly what to do. They kind of knew what to do, and I prefer that. It's more conducive to being creative when you don't have to tell somebody how every little thing should work. For example, we're looking for a new Nile bassist and we made the auditions public, which has its pros and cons. The pros would be that you're open to a wider range of player, and the cons are that you're also open to a wider range of player (laughs). There are a few people that wrote in asking 'Do you have bass tabs for the songs I'm supposed to audition with?' but if I have to tell you everything you have to do rather than you just listening... I don't want to be in the position of having to dictate every last fucking detail to someone. It's just much better if you can work with people that know what they're supposed to do."

In a BraveWords interview many years ago, Annihilator founder / guitarist Jeff Waters perhaps best explained what it was like going from playing metal to acoustic guitar-based music. The way he put it, paraphrased, was that you're able to hide your mistakes behind walls of distortion; when you play clean, people hear each and every detail down to the last note, so you really need to have your shit together. Sanders has a similar view.

"It's like being naked. Going from electric to acoustic guitar, it's like baring your soul because every little thing you do translates into sound. You can convey emotion pretty well when you're standing there naked, for sure."

And although Sanders isn't a wallflower, and has made a career as a live performer, he doesn't see himself bringing Saurian Apocalypse or any of his previous solo albums to the stage any time soon.

"I'm happy with this being a studio production. Once you take it out of its idealized environment, some of the magic of this record - being able to close your eyes and drift away - when you put it in the live medium it becomes something else. Unless we were to have a Hans Zimmer-sized budget to really perform the hell out of it, I think that would ruin the magic a little bit."

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