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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.

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For Tampa, Florida genre purists Diabolic things finally seem to fall in place with their second record “Subterraneal Magnitude”. The line-up had solidified with vocalist Paul Ouellette returning to bass guitar, his primary instrument, and Bryan Hipp filling the vacated guitarist slot. By all accounts “Subterraneal Magnitude” is the best Diabolic record, and probably this outfit’s lone signature album. Although it would arrive after being delayed for a full year through the Conquest Music imprint, it would easily eclipse “Vengeance Ascending”, the third and final Diabolic album of the classic line-up. What makes this album superior to its predecessors and successors? Let’s find out.

The album opens with the instrumental track ‘Vassago’ which combines a few piano notes with a decidedly lesser churning Morbid Angel riff set to a primal thrash drum beat with lots of cymbal crashes and hihat action. This leads into the few seconds long and entirely pointless ‘Forewarning’ segue, which at long last, runs straight into ‘Extinction Level Event’. Exactly what purpose ‘Forewarning’ is supposed to serve remains a mystery to me, as ‘Vassago’ is the ideal introduction to the first actual song of the album. The riffing, tapping heavily from the Morbid Angel and German thrash metal well, is considerably denser compared to the debut, and the leads/solos feature more prominently. These very same leads/solos are also integrated better into the actual songs, and while there was never anything ornamental about Diabolic’s music, at least here it sounds like some actual thought was put into the writing of these tracks, as it sounds as a cohesive whole.

A sore point, and one of the major drawbacks with all Diabolic’s recorded output, is just how derivative and obvious it is about its influences and what it intends to put forth. Nothing is ever surprising, and despite its valiant attempt at constant brutality, solo’ing and speed, there’s not a lot of substance to be found, lyrically and/or musically. For one, it is clear that Diabolic really, really loves “Altars Of Madness” by Morbid Angel, and second, they are a thrash metal band with death metal architecture and goofy, satanic lyrics to boot. Where superior bands take their inspirations as a foundation, and built their music off of that framework, that basis is all that Diabolic got, and precious little else. Does that make them bad, or horrendously awful? Not exactly, but it isn’t the type band that instills boundless respect and lavish praise for what they are, or what they do.

32902_artistIn actuality there are two strong points, both which happen to be trapped in an unremarkable death metal package, and those are co-founders Brian Malone (lead guitar) and Aantar Lee Coates (drums). Of these two Malone is obviously the stronger element, as his tasteful leads/solos go through a variety of influences and techniques – all while befitting the song they are in, and the genre they belong to. Coates, skilled in his own right, would be more at home with a full-blown thrash metal outfit (one of his past bands Horror Of Horrors was just that). That isn’t to say that Coates isn’t a good drummer, because he is. He just isn’t the type skinsman that possesses a wide variety of styles and percussive techniques. Coates would have been at home in early Angelcorpse, and Malone could have felt comfortably anywhere from Death, Krisiun to Pessimist.

One of the things you’ll immediately notice is how much more meatier and crunchier this record sounds. Both the drums and the guitars sound far more concrete, have more body than ever before and possess deeper, richer tones on all fronts. The bass guitar is still more felt than it is heard, but it is a gigantic leap forward compared to the thin-sounding “Supreme Evil” of just a few years prior. The drums are still triggered to an insane level, but at least they still sound organic and warm. The production isn’t what you call smooth or professional, but is is clear Diabolic isn’t in its demo phase anymore. It also helps tremendously that the Joe Petagno artwork is nothing short of fantastic, and it perfectly portrays the hellish beating that this record offers musically. However, like the band it is used for, it is a string of unexciting clichés and expected genre tropes.

What this really is, or aspires to be rather, is a poor’s man Hate Eternal. The problem is that each of the members is only moderately talented on their instrument of choice, and the band’s collective songwriting skills aren’t very much to write home about. It tries really hard to ape “King Of All Kings”, but comes of only as a somewhat embarrassing love note to its more talented peers. Granted, this record is as derivative and cliché as everything else about Diabolic– but it makes no qualms about what it is. What is that exactly, you wonder? Well, lesser Florida death metal in all its glory is a fitting descriptor for this package. In fact, I struggle to call this second-tier because honestly bands like Malevolent Creation, Monstrosity and a host of others are plainly better than this band on all fronts. No. Diabolic is third-tier, the eternal support act, and nothing more or less than that. They are somewhat reliable, but that’s about all the good you can say about them, to be honest.

And that’s okay, not every band sets high goals for itself.