Skip to content

cover-devian02.jpg

 

The second Devian album isn’t so much of an improvement over the first as it is a mere continuation. Granted, at least the songs are structured better and more fluid on this album. The reality of the situation is that Devian never was a special, or good band to begin with. The debut did what it set out to do, but beyond covering the basics there was little substance to speak of. Devian partially benefitted from the thrash metal revival which coincided with their two albums, but even then the reaction to its output was lukewarm at worst and mildly positive at best. Of the two albums they put out this one is the best. The addition of a new second guitarist and a bassist (Tomas Nillsson had moved to the guitar slot by this point) does little to make “God To the Illfated” sound substantially better than the debut from the year before. An amateurish, cheap-looking promo video was shot for ‘Assailant’, but it did little in terms of visibility for the band. Unsurprisingly, after the touring cycle for this record the band fell into disrepair once Hagstedt announced his departure to concentrate on his occupation as a tattoo artist.

One of the things that “God To the Illfated” does do right, is that it no longer seems confused as to what it wants to be. For better or worse, this is a Swedish melodic death metal record first, and a thrash metal record second. This clear sense of purpose, and direction, makes it more focused and more coherent to the debut from a year before. The songwriting has marginally improved, but is still marked by the same ills that plagued the debut. There’s a lot of classic Swedish death metal influence with this record. The melodies, chord progressions and the overall song construction are heavily indebted to the likes of Dissection, Necrophobic, Sacramentum, Unanimated and some older Stockholm outfits of this style. It isn’t quite as traditional and conventionally death metal as say, Grave, Dismember or Unleashed – but it shares the same sense of darkness and hopelessness with them. The record is fairly upbeat and energetic, which comes mostly from the band’s thrash metal architecture, but this album is also a lot darker than “Ninewinged Serpent”. The band still insists on playing midpace exclusively, and despite the wider palette of influences, the dynamic range is still enormously limited by this lunkheaded decision. Breaking with past tradition is one thing – and a thing I can actually get behind, but should songs and an album suffer in the long run because its players don’t want to play a certain style or technique anymore? No. They shouldn’t.

There’s a great prominence of rocking, almost swinging guitar solos – and their presence helps forget that all these songs sound mostly the same. The tempo is more varied, and the tracks are far more dynamically richer compared to the debut. The tempo of choice is still midpace, but that is now enhanced by faster and slower sections. Much of the directionless meandering and plodding of the previous album has been rectified in favor of a more spirited, leaner song construction. It is a small change, but one with important consequences. The record flows better, and it isn’t a chore to sit through. Despite all these improvements “God To the Illfated” still sounds like a number of re-worked b-sides from the “Ninewinged Serpent” session. It depends what you come to look for in a band, but progression is only minimal with Devian in that regard. With barely a year in between records it is folly to expect much progress from one album to another, yet nobody was pushing the band to release an album so quickly, but themselves. Like with the debut the tracks here are all adequately performed and recorded, but like that album they are mere shells of what they could have been. These tracks could have been the foundation for an excellent, technically inclined death/thrash metal hybrid if they were given the time to properly gestate and grow. No such luck here, and “God To the Illfated” sounds as close to “Ninewinged Serpent” without being a direct clone. That is to the detriment of the record and the band because this could, no, should have been better.

Even in his later years with Marduk, frontman Erik Hagstedt was often criticized for his subpar vocals. The same problem presents itself here. Hagstedt’s rasps are his weapon of choice, and thankfully he deviates from them little. Whenever he attempts to shout, scream or sing cleanly – it becomes painfully clear just how shot and hoarse his voice truly sounds. In an attempt to hide their frontman’s vocal shortcomings there are backing vocals to offer up some respite.  The rest of the music is perfectly functional for what it attempts to convey. You can’t shake the impression that you heard this before, and often much better at that. No, “God To the Illfated” is far from bad, but it isn’t good either. Nothing about this album screams out in any department you choose to look. It looks good, it sounds good and it has the proper elements in place – yet it does nothing remotely interesting with the cards it is given. This album is pedestrian and mediocre. It is death/thrash metal by Marduk members, and that’s apparently the only thought that went into the creation of the band, and its albums. It is also the only selling point the label used to push at the time – and, admittedly, it worked wonders. Devian should have been an amazing metal band by proxy, or by association – whatever you want to call it.

Devian are to Swedish melodic death metal as to what Diabolic are to Tampa, Florida death metal: the most generic, inoffensive, stock incarnation of an otherwise reliable and exciting style. There isn’t any shame in embracing that innate derivateness as long as it is done with a respectable amount of gusto, finesse and energy. Devian possesses two of those three traits, yet inexplicably and despite the higher overall tempo, “God To the Illfated” sounds unenthusiastic, lifeless and without energy. Almost like a band tired with its chosen style, and tired with itself, for that matter. Not even the improved songwriting and better recording can lift the spirit of this band. Given that this was only the second album, and all involved in its creation were experienced professionals in various capacity, it was only right that Devian decided to call it a day. No band should be forced to carry on when the passion is gone – and the passion is long gone here, sadly.

cover-diabolic03.jpg

 

On its third album Diabolic was seemingly on autopilot. Unable to retain the productional gloss of the preceding record “Vengeance Ascending” is a callback to the debut “Supreme Evil” in a number of ways, while losing much of the songwriting lustre of the previous record. Hampered by a subpar Diet Of Worms production by Juan ‘Punchy’ Gonzalez and feeling more like a pre-production demo than an actual new album the record is letdown on all fronts. It is bad? Not exactly. Is it good? That is debatable. This is Diabolic after all, never most the impressive unit to begin with.

1933988_245266175130_7633026_nThis time around the band wastes no time with an instrumental intro track, or a segue to introduce the first song. No, ‘Darken the Imagination’ starts off with a blast and from that point on it is business-as-usual in camp Diabolic. Notable is that the lead/solo work is as good as it has ever been, and the drumming is perhaps at its most feverishly blasting. The problem still is that these tracks are just all groovy, catchy and perfectly functional Florida death metal – but it isn’t something that people are going to take notice of. It is too flaccid and simply too unremarkable for that kind of praise. As angry and pissed off as the band sounds here, there still isn’t a lot of substance to be found, or instantly memorable and good songs. It all sounds too non-committal, too vanilla and, well, unremarkable in the grand scheme of things. There were and are better Florida bands, with better ideas and more interesting lyrical and thematical concepts.

Just like Paul Ouellette’s serpentine barked grunts, the band is only “kinda there” when they play. There isn’t anything wrong with what they play, or how they play it – it’s just all so very mundane, and tired sounding even. Not deviating an inch from the formula they established on the prior two records, Diabolic limit and shortsell themselves on many fronts. There’s one thing being a Morbid Angel clone (something which a lot bands were in the 90s), but Diabolic takes it to a whole new level. Lacking both in vision and instrumentation the band would never reach its lofty goal in trying to be as good as, or better than, their more artistically accomplished Florida contemporaries. If you want to hear the sound Diabolic kicks around here done better on every front, it is safe to look into Malevolent Creation’s vast discography. They are more thrashy in what they do, but the core sound is nearly identical to this band. Malevolent Creation is a lot more earthly in its subjects too, which is a step up from the goofy satanic mumbo-jumbo of this outfit.

Diabolic is an average band at its core. The playing is solid, the writing is competent but nothing of it is conceptually or musically ambitious or different sounding. The only truly new thing on “Vengeance Ascending” is the strangely atmospheric interlude ‘The Inevitable’ which arrives mid album. Then there’s also the particularly embarrassing ‘Celestial Pleasures’ that comes with sampled moanings of Coates’ girlfriend to emphasize the inane smut lyrics. At points it is even hard to tell the various songs apart, were it not for the regularly appearing mesmerizing and wailing guitar solos. It is these leads/solos, and the band’s signature trade-offs, that give the band much of its strength what it otherwise lacks. If only the riffs and song constructions were as compelling as the shrieking, wailing, crawly leads/solos. Brian Malone is no Chuck Schuldiner, no Trey Azagthoth and certainly no Wojtek Lisicki – but despite his simple and straightforward style and technique these solos are far better than a band of the caliber as Diabolic deserves. One can only imagine what would have become of Malone if he had been surrounded by more talented musicians. His presence is dimished by the mundanity of the rest of the band, with exception of drummer and co-founder Aantar Lee Coates.

The lyrics, much like the band name and the cover art, are a typical example of an underground band that doesn’t have anything remotely interesting to say. The lyrics talk in broad strokes about the usual subjects of anti-religion, Satanism, individualism, war and self-empowerment. Much like established institution Morbid Angel and its offshoot Hate Eternal do, but they aren’t nearly as verbose or thematically rich, and lack the theological background to which to paint these subjects against. The resulting lyrics are poorly stringed together catchphrases, meaningless evil chatter and overcooked infernal imagery that does little to set the band apart from their contemporaries. The lines are easy rhymes with no narrative to speak of, and there is nothing beyond the superficial. For the most part the song titles are more interesting than the lyrics. That isn’t to say that Diabolic aren’t trying, they are. They just happened to have adopted a line of subject matter that is expected of them, and not something they as a band feel strong about.

That is the problem that has always characterized Diabolic and most of its classic output. They were as stock as they came. They were standard to a fault. Every single thing you identify with 90s Florida death metal is accounted for. Blasts? Check. Morbid Angel riffs? Solos? Double check. A stylish and sufficiently evil logo? Check. Even the Joe Petagno artwork looks dull and uninspired compared to his best canvasses. Regardless of where Diabolic lifts its material from, it simply does not hold up to the true Florida forces – and no amount of triggered blasts or finger-twisting solos is going to change that. As reliable as they were in the 2000s the band simply isn’t very outstanding, in any department.