Death metal aficionados know Karl Sanders as the driving force behind South Carolina’s Egyptian-themed death metal titans Nile. But there’s more to Sanders than ripping electric guitar solos, death growls and blast beats.
The multi-instrumentalist released his first solo album, Saurian Meditation, through Relapse Records in 2004, which was perhaps best described by Lambgoat’s Kirby Unrest: “Sanders throws off any extreme music constraints and transports listeners to a world of dark, mystic soundscapes filled with ancient spirits, mind altering visions, and catacombs complex, all of which make for one hell of a debut.”
Sanders, who has been playing guitar for the better part of four decades, certainly knows his way around the instrument. But for his solo work, Sanders opts for more diverse instrumentation. “I love the baglama saz, for example,” he admits. “It’s a really cool instrument because there are half step frets. If you put the quarter tone in the right place you can add a lot of dark mystery to a melody,” he explains.
“While I do have a natural ease of technique with just about any stringed instrument, which could easily lend itself to miles and miles of would-be saz spaghetti shredfest, I use the instrument in a more compositional and thematic way—playing evocative melodies and song-oriented riffs.
“I have immense respect for the Eastern musicians who are accomplished in playing the instrument in its traditional style. Most of my musical training, however, is Western-oriented, so no matter what I do I’m not going to sound completely authentic with the saz. So rather than get caught up in merely attempting to emulate the great Turkish players like Orhan Gencebay, which would never be realistically achievable anyway, I get more enjoyment out of approaching the saz in a non-traditional, uniquely musical, and personal way.”
The baglama saz, a traditional Turkish lute, is just one of many instruments Sanders employs to create lush imagery and stirring emotion in his solo work. Glissentar (a sort of east/west hybrid instrument), acoustic guitars, guitar synth, keyboards, and various drums and percussion instruments are employed as well on Sanders’ forthcoming followup to Saurian Meditation. The new album, entitled Saurian Exorcisms, is Sanders’ magnum opus and every instrument present, including percussion, was performed by Sanders himself.
“I’m a big fan of Arabic rhythms and middle eastern percussion instruments,” Sanders explains. “But since I’m not a drummer by trade, It takes a bit longer to do all the drums myself. The upside is that I don’t have to wait on anybody else, and I don’t have to spend my energy needlessly debating drum arrangements or endlessly trying to explain unusual song concepts.”
“Since percussion is not my forte,” he continues, “the drum parts end up being a little less cluttered and more custom tailored to the song. The drums aren’t necessarily the prime thrust of the record, but they’re thematically appropriate and they’re interesting as they function to help set the right mood and keep a nice compositional focus.”
Besides Sanders, the only other musician appearing on Saurian Exorcisms is Mike Breazeale, who contributes chants and some vocals. “Between the two of us we did everything on the album, even the stuff that sounds like female vocals,” Sanders chuckles. Sanders’ influences are more varied and far-reaching than Nile fans may suspect. “What I’ve been trying to do is move away from strict Egyptian kind of influences and incorporate a broader range of inspiration. The music I’m making is not strictly traditional Egyptian music. I borrow and steal from the traditional music of many different cultures. There’s some Tibetan stuff, some Indian stuff, some Arabic stuff, and so forth.”
Saurian Exorcisms will see a 2009 release through eclectic Brooklyn-based indie label The End Records. “I hope that people find Saurian Exorcisms relaxing and imaginative,” Sanders says. “A lot of times when I’m listening to this music it makes my mind wander adrift and my imagination go places. And I like music like that. Like cinematic music, you listen to it and see little movies in your head. It takes you to a different place.”