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Seven years after the last Diabolic record the Tampa, Florida blast unit returned with what should have been the second Unholy Ghost album. With three quarters of the original Unholy Ghost line-up accounted for on “Excisions Of Exorcisms” it is a question of why this album sounds more generic and faceless than this band’s prime records. It seems as if the death metal world had passed Diabolic (and its assorted splinter projects) by in the years that they were inactive – and the band’s stubborn insistence on genre purity only pushes them further into irrelevance. What once was a mildly promising outfit is reduced to nothing more than a quickly overlooked footnote. Like the uninspired Joe Petagno painting that functions as its cover “Excisions Of Exorcisms” doesn’t so much break new ground as it stomps relentlessly on things it already did better many years before. This record shouldn’t been released under the Diabolic name.

Diabolic final photo Creative RIPPLES flameloresOnce again co-founder/lead guitarist Brian Malone is absent, and it begs the question why this was released as a Diabolic album in the first place. Taken at facevalue, or considered as an Unholy Ghost release, “Excisions Of Exorcisms” is a futile attempt from a second-tier band to remain relevant. Excessive in its brutality and speed Diabolic is once again on autopilot, and churn out in what graciously can be called the spiritual successor to “Vengeance Ascending”. Whereas Unholy Ghost used reject Diabolic riffs and song construction, this Diabolic (not really, but that’s a different discussion) uses reject Unholy Ghost riffs and song construction. Yes, this sounds exactly as the metaphor implies. Where “Vengeance Ascending” had the dignity of having Malone on board, this record has neither him nor long-time contributor Jerry Mortellaro – resulting in what can be mildly called a disappointment considering the experience of its membership. If nothing else it seems that the band here tried its hardest to copy what little magic they had in their original run, and in doing so rob the record of its spirit. Just looking at this record exudes the sort of familiarity that breeds the blackest of contempt. Every single thing Diabolic used in their original run has been soullessly copied and repurposed.

Culling from all three classic albums that preceded “Excisions Of Exorcisms” is a desperate bid to appeal to the nostalgia factor that has now befell the band. Since the last Diabolic album a lot has changed in the world of death metal, but going by the sound of this album apparently these Tampa residents are oblivious to the obvious. It still very much sounds like Diabolic, or Unholy Ghost – but neither in its prime. The album starts off with a schmaltzy “spooky” intro that very much tries to imitate the band’s first album “Supreme Evil”. Once the intro segues into the title track and from the onset it is rather obvious that this Diabolic is familiar but not exactly on the compositional level that we’ve grown accustomed to over the years. With the absence of Brian Malone comes the lack of pure death metal riffing, and “Excisions Of Exorcisms” is far more thrashy in that regard. Morbid Angel is still the major source of inspiration, but the record is more based in “Altars Of Madness” than, say, “Blessed Are the Sick” or “Covenant”. The chord progressions, riff placement and song structures are more thrashy in comparison to the three classic albums, and the compositional simplicity of “Supreme Evil” is combined with the directness and lack of ornamental grace that defined “Vengeance Ascending”.

The lead – and solo sections are the highlight in this barrage of stock blasts and growls. Guitarist duo Kelly McLauchlin and Jeff Parrish offer up some veritably exciting lead trade-offs, and both clearly have a very individual style of solo’ing. But this alone is not able to redeem this album from its generic songwriting choices and stock performances from the other members. Paul Ouellette (vocals, bass guitar) never was the greatest singer to begin with, but at least here he offers up a passionate, and very much early David Vincent inspired performance. Ouellette’s rasps and barks recall Morbid Angel’s seminal “Altars Of Madness” in terms of intensity and speed. Aantar Lee Coates (drums) is his usual self, and despite the years that have passed since his last label sanctioned outing there is very little evolution in his playing. There was a certain complexity about “Torrential Reign” that is absent here, and as a Diabolic record it spents a too much of its running time reminding us what Diabolic was about, instead of actually being Diabolic. It sounds as if the band realized they were no longer relevant, and thus decided to call upon the listeners’ nostalgia in order to remain appealing. “Excisions Of Exorcism” fails to recapture the magic of the preceding records, and offers nothing exciting in return.

The problem isn’t so much that the band isn’t trying, but that it appears to exist in a creative stasis. The presence of McLauchlin should, theoretically, have led to better riffs and overall song construction. Yet this is Diabolic, and not McLauchlin’s own Pessimist although McLauchlin shares writing credits on all songs, Coates’ creative marks are all over these daft cuts. ‘Entombed’ and ‘Evil In Disguise’ were written by McLauchlin, ‘Fragmented Kreation’ was written by Parrish and ‘Bloodwashed’ was written by Coates. The remainder of the songs were all co-written by these men. Making a serviceable debut here is the late Jeff Parrish, who seemed to be a fitting replacement for the absent Jerry Mortellaro as his riffing style is quite similar, but not quite on the same level. As in the past the lyrics are the usual incoherent Satanic praise, individualism, violence and self-empowerment gibberish mixed with the strangely socio-political themed ‘Evil In Disguise’, which is a red blooded patriotic hymn leveled against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. The track even namechecks the “Supreme Evil” song ‘Ancient Hatred’ in its lyrics. The lyrics aren’t particularly good, or worth remembering – but in general they are a lot better than most underground slam death metal – or most deathcore bands. Also accounted is the typical atmospheric interlude, on this album being the closer track ‘Infernal Darkness’, which was written by producer Juan ‘Punchy’ Gonzalez, and it very much is reminiscent of ‘The Inevitable’ from “Vengeance Ascending” and ‘The Apparition’ from Unholy Ghost’s sole album “Torrential Reign”. Despite the line-up differences and lesser quality material this should have, by all accounts, been an Unholy Ghost product as the links to classic era Diabolic are tangential at the very best.

Given the gaps of inactivity, bad luck and continual line-up problems it remains doubtful whether Diabolic will once again rise to the level of underground prominence they once held. Since the release of the album the band has parted ways (once again) with Ouellette and McLauchlin. In February 2013 lead guitarist Jeff Parrish passed away due to a heart attack, and it appears that Diabolic has a hard time holding on to a fully functional line-up. As such they will probably never be able to secure high-profile tours like they did in the band’s heyday in the early 2000s. The album does what it sets out to do, but like the band’s past prime material it is never exceptional except in its adherence to traditional genre tropes and conventions. The production is probably the best the band has experienced, but it cannot redeem the album in any meaningful way. Like the Joe Petagno artwork that serves as its front, it is merely a reminder of what once was the most promising death metal outfit in the Florida region. “Excisions Of Exorcisms” is an unremarkable return from a band that never was really special to begin with.

 

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Released a year after Diabolic’s “Infinity Through Purification” the debut (and currently, only) album from Tampa, Florida death troop Unholy Ghost proves conclusively who was responsible for that band’s continual streak of utter mediocrity and pointless genericness. Whereas the newly put together Malone-led Diabolic went all out, and tried to break new ground, musically and lyrically – Unholy Ghost does exactly as they had done before and contents itself by doing nothing more. Beyond some superficial conceptual variations (in terms of artwork and guitar solos) this is a Diabolic record through and through – and it sounds exactly like the three records these three members featured on. Despite the adversity, the hardship and tribulations – nothing has changed for the trio, and given the circumstances that is a poor choice on their part. Unholy Ghost is Diabolic in everything but name, with all the shortcomings and defects that entails. “Torrential Reign” is a solid, unremarkable second-tier album from a band that shouldn’t have existed in the first place. It is reliable in what it does, but that doesn’t make it good.

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In good old Diabolic tradition the record starts off with ‘The Calling Of Sin’, a blasting opener that attempts to recapture the alchemy of ‘Extinction Level Event’ or ‘Sacrament Of Fiends’. It doesn’t really lead anywhere, and the second track ‘Soul Disment’ should readily prove just how little the band has changed at all since “Vengeance Ascending”. Diabolic was never what you call a technical band, or a very creative one – and Unholy Ghost, its direct successor, gladly lifts from the same well. Morbid Angel, Possessed and German thrash metal are its most direct influences, along with latter-day Pessimist and Brazilian trio Krisiun that can be heard in bits and parts. The Pessimist influence isn’t all that surprising given the presence of lead guitarist Kelly McLauchlin. It is only his presence that elevates Unholy Ghost above mediocrity, as his chaotic, mesmerizing leads/solos are far more elaborate and engrossing than those of Jerry Mortellaro and even Brian Malone, although his style is surprisingly close to theirs on this record. In all there’s no progression to speak of. Not in terms of instrumental skill and musicianship, and certainly not in terms of songwriting prowess. Everything is exactly as it was before.

There are three former Diabolic members present, and all are accounted for to bring their expected and usual performance to this disc. Paul Ouellette on vocals and bass guitar brings his boorish hoarse grunt that is somewhere between Jason Avery (ex-Monstrosity) and “Altars Of Madness” David Vincent. His pronunciation, nor his lyrics are very good and there is no evolution to speak of since his last appearance. The bass guitar can be briefly heard on ‘Eyes Of Lost’, but it is content to double the guitars. Jerry Mortellaro (lead guitars) has become slightly better in the lead department, but the riffs he writes are somewhere between the most uninspired works of Deicide, Morbid Angel and Possessed. Kelly McLauchlin (lead guitars) is the most talented member present, and since he has been forced to adopt his style to the majority, none of his usual riffs are to be found here. At least he was able to retain much of lead/solo writing and he stands heads and shoulders above any of his peers, be they Brian Malone or Jerry Mortellaro. Aantar Lee Coates sits behind the drums, and his drumming is as limited, blast-oriented and one-dimensional as it was on any of the albums he was on in his Diabolic tenure.

You’d be hardpressed to tell this album apart from “Vengeance Ascending” aside from the tonally vaster production, and the dynamically richer compositions (although that isn’t saying much). Once again the band holed up at Diet Of Worms in Florida and with exception of the crunchier and thicker guitar tone, Coates’ dominant snare drums and impotent kickdrums – this is a Diabolic record in tone, construction and in the parts where it isn’t, it can be simply rationalized by the fact that this was a splinter project. The music is as overindulgent (especially in terms of drumming), busy and single-minded as it was in the previous band setup. Not even a new writing partner can bump up the trio’s immensely mediocre songwriting capabilities. Neither does the band do anything to accommodate Kelly McLauchlin’s writing talent and superior skill level. The Unholy Ghost logo has similarities with the Diabolic logo, and the digital artwork of Swedish artist Matthias Norén from ProgArt Media is better if only by grace that it is, thankfully, different from the goofy satanic/horror canvasses by Danish painter Joe Petagno this band adorned its album covers with when they were still called Diabolic.

kellySince Unholy Ghost was the creative vessel for Aantar Lee Coates, it isn’t very surprising that he had a hand in the majority of material present on this disc. All material was written by the Coates-Mortellaro axis, with exception of ‘Denunciation – the Cursed’ and ‘Torrential Reign’ being written with assistance by Kelly McLauchlin, ‘Under Existence’ was co-written with Paul Ouellette and ‘The Apparition’ was co-written by producer Juan ‘Punchy’ Gonzales and Coates. A promo video was shot for ‘Under Existence’, but that helped little in further expanding the band’s fanbase. A proposed follow-up to this album was announced. “Blasphemy Of the Grand Divine” would never materialize in any shape or form as the project fell apart due to infighting. In the two years after the release of the album Unholy Ghost would be besieged by the usual line-up woes with both Coates and McLauchlin taking their leave. The former would briefly initiate a band called Blastmasters as an excuse to later revive his main project Diabolic. McLauchlin would return to Maryland and resurrect Pessimist on a theoretical level, only later to join legendary proto-death metallers Possessed as a touring guitarist. In 2013 it was rumoured that Unholy Ghost had reformed with the entire “Torrential Reign” line-up, but these stories proved to be false, as it was Pessimist (who had now established a mostly new line-up based around the Tampa region) that had reformed once again.