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.
In 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.