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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.

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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.