The French band Nil was founded in the year 1994, and ”Quarante jours sur le Sinaï” (forty days on the Sinaï) is their third album. The first album “Nil” was released in the year 1998 which was followed in 1999 by the mini album “Nocturnes”. It included two covers of Claude Debussy’s masterpiece “Nocturnes” (for the hundredth anniversary of its creation) and a more contemporary piece “Bagatelle no.4” of György Ligeti. After this the band worked three years on this amazing concept album ”Quarante jours sur le Sinaï”. The album is highly inspired by Egyptian culture and in the extra booklet you find excerpts from the works of Plato, Phylos, Dante Alighieri and others. Heavy but intriguiging stuff.
David Maurin – prepared guitars, flute, gong, bass clarinet; Samuel Maurin – Bass, stick, voice, Egyptian incantations; Benjamin Croizy – synthesizers, Mellotron, church organ, Hammond organ, piano, MS 20, timpani; Frank Niebel – drums, percussion.
Roselyne Berthet (became a full member of Nil in 2003) – vocals, ethereal voices; Anne Cayrol – Cello; Hervé Franconi – soprano sax; François Pernel – Harp; Audrey Casella – narrator.
The whole album is in fact one long piece of music which is divided into two acts, “Acte I” (36:16) and “Acte II” (26:42). To make it for the listener easier to follow the texts in the booklet, the two acts are indexed into almost thirty parts. But you will listen to one long track. Together with the Tantra album (“Terra”) which I reviewed last month this album is one of the big surprises of this year so far. Both albums will find a place in my top 10, that’s for sure! The album has often a kind of dark and intriguing atmosphere. And the instrumentation is very special, with church organ, harp, mellotron, cello and delicate female vocals. The opening of the album is amazing with the delicate sound of a harp solo against the darker sounds of the church organ, cello and the Mellotron. At a later point the guitar, which is played in a way Fripp sometimes does, replaces the harp. I really love this dark opening. And when you think the music is becoming more and more complex, the music slows down in rhythm and Roselyne Berthet’s beautiful voice can be heard for the first time. The best thing is that Nil has developed an own style on this album. The only bands or musicians that crossed my mind while listening to this album were Robert Fripp and Andy Summers (because of the style of some guitar parts and the atmospheric soundscapes) and the also French bands like Halloween (because of the dark atmosphere with delicate female vocals) and Saens. The music has a lot of variation. Melodic parts with vocals are followed by dark keyboard layers, aggressive guitar work and complex rhythms played by drummer Frank Niebel and delicious stick work of Samuel Maurin. The prepared guitars of David Maurin and the keyboards of Benjamin Croizy have a big part in the music of Nil. Sometimes I also hear some jazz fusion influences, mainly in the guitar and keyboard parts. You will never get bored with this album. After the dark and complex parts, more melodic parts will follow. There are some very beautiful melodies on this album.
I would describe the music as dark symphonic/progressive rock. Personally I find this one of the best progressive albums I have heard in the last few years. The band has welcomed Roselyne Berthet as a full member of the band. She will also play some Mellotron in the up-coming gigs. Some people in Portugal are working hard to organize a festival with Nil, Tantra and La Maschera di Cerra. I hope they will succeed in organizing this festival with an amazing “dream line-up”.