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.
This 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.