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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.

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Somewhere in the early 2000s the mid period Marduk line-up splintered with vocalist Erik Hagstedt and drummer Emil Dragutinovic exiting the fold. It was perhaps not surprising that both men eventually ended up forming a new band that sounded anything like their previous engagement. Thus was born Devian. Devian was a shortlived Swedish death/thrash/black metal group that was active from 2006 to 2011. It originally went by the name Rebel Angels (and Elizium for a bit after that) and featured two prominent Marduk alumni in vocalist Erik Hagstedt and drummer Emil Dragutinovic. The band managed to release two albums on Century Media and put in some touring before imploding due to line-up changes and life’s general difficulties. Like so many splinter projects of more popular bands Devian wasn’t bad, but it remains questionable whether their existence added something to their direction of choice. The answer to that is as clear as it is obvious: no, Devian didn’t add anything to melodic death metal, or black/thrash metal. It does both genres well enough, but that’s about it.

devian11“Ninewinged Serpent” is, above all else, a record in stark contrast in writing to the duo’s previous work in Marduk. Whereas that band (at least in its mid period) seemed to focus on one-dimensional blast-oriented high-octane black metal, Devian is anything but that. There isn’t much speed or blasting to be found on this record – and whenever it appears it is only used sparingly. While Marduk post-“Opus Nocturne” was never a great master of dynamics or compositional range, Devian is equally as handicapped in that regard. What the band play is better than most of its contemporaries, but the adamant insistence on playing exclusively midpaced with little to no deviation makes the record an exercise in tedium. While this is refreshing in itself for the first two or three tracks, by the time you reach the middle of the album one is wishing that Devian would just let things rip and change the tempo and dynamics up a bit. It is a one-trick pony, and the trick itself isn’t remotely exciting or spectacular enough to warrant all the attention.

‘Dressed In Blood’ is about as far from Marduk as one can get. It’s a deathly thrashing metal variant that is both melodic and dark but energetic. It hints upon something malevolent and threatening just below the surface - but it never goes there, it never comes out. The track never delivers upon its initial promise. It is characterizing for the band that most of their songs are meddling, middle-of-the-road affairs that do what they do well, but fail to go anywhere remotely exciting in the process. Yes, it stands to reason that it is fun to hear former Marduk members venture into death – and thrash metal territory, but that alone isn’t enough to sell the record. Devian doesn’t go for either direction convincingly. It isn’t dark, heavy and hateful enough sounding to be purely death metal, and it misses the adrenaline-fueled excitement, the neckbreaking rhythm sections or the groove one would associate with thrash metal. The black metal influence is minimal, and outside of Hagstedt’s serpentine rasps there is little to associate it with that genre. “Ninewinged Serpent” does a bit of everything, but doesn’t do any of those things convincing enough to impress. The same basic ideas get repeated over and over again, and the album goes nowhere. There’s no journey to be had. No climax, no payoff.

That’s the major and only problem that plagues this band and this debut. It’s been done before, often times better and in more exciting ways. At times it even feels like the songs of this album needed more time to gestate and to properly grow. Instead they were hastily stitched together and recorded in order that Century Media could push the album out. While it is great seeing former Marduk members band together and writing music again, it leaves you wondering what could have happened if Devian didn’t get signed, and had transformed into another musically more ambitious and conceptually stronger unit. The skill level is obviously present, but this band feels so ordinary and mundane for players of this caliber. Emil Dragutinovic is capable of much better than the predictable and laidback thrash beats he dishes out, the riffing is solid but not particularly strong and the songwriting bounces in all directions, but never decides what it really wants to be. Erik Hagstedt is his usual self, and at least his lyrics are slightly more personal than the corny, goofy things he was obliged to write under the Marduk banner. Devian is just the sum of its parts – and that sum isn’t particularly strong or remarkable in itself.

In fact, if this wasn’t for the label muscle and the involvement of said Marduk members, you’d be hardpressed to tell this apart from the hundreds of melodic death metal bands in the underground. There’s no two ways about it. This album sounds so ordinary, to the point of being cliché that it’s even painful to listen to just because of how underachieving and mediocre the entire premise sounds. Yes, the songs sound good, they are adequately recorded and there’s some energy to them. Yet nothing screams out to the listener, these are mere shells of stronger and better songs. There’s better bands with less starpower that write much better, more poignant music than what these established figureheads have cooked up here. Devian was one of the earlier bands to use the digital artwork of Greek artist Seth Siro Anton from Hellenic symphonic metal act Septic Flesh, and that’s the only spark of originality in this otherwise mundane and too non-committal sounding death/thrash record. And that’s a shame, really… because this could have been so much better on all fronts – but it just isn’t showing here, nor would it be on the second album.