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In the two years of touring and writing that Six Feet Under busied themselves with after the release of “Haunted”, you’d imagine that somewhere down the road they would assess their strengths and weaknesses. The second album, like a third recording, is the time when a band needs to prove itself as an entity worthy of continued praise and support. With the financial and promotional aide of Metal Blade Records to hold down the fort Six Feet Under did indeed have the support angle in their favor, the praise not so much. “Haunted”, despite its actual good sales numbers, wasn’t the thing people bragged about liking, other than in that jokingly, not-so-serious manner as in: “it isn’t that bad!” So, when “Warpath” was announced all eyes were on Chris Barnes and company to deliver their ultimate statement, the record to prove that Six Feet Under was a genuine band that could stand on its own two feet. Was this the case? Well, no. Not really.

The air sirens that introduce ‘War Is Coming’ at least attempt to inject some life into this Obituary retread. A retread is precisely what this sorry waste of time and resources is. “Haunted”, for all its work-in-progress faults and shortcomings, was excusable in the sense that it was a one-off side-project, and not a very serious one at that. “Warpath” on the other hand was the result of a two years gestation period, where the band had time to test their new and old material in the live arena. “Warpath” largely follows the same template as its predecessor, but there are a few notable differences.  I wouldn’t call these differences improvements, but at least there are differences, superficial as they might be.

tumblr_np1awlljTZ1u2hlzto1_500Barnes’ growl vocals start their deterioration with this album. There are instances of spoken passages and an increase of his shrieks. I know not what happened to Barnes in between “Haunted” and this session, but it is safe to assume that the rabid consumption of ganja had shredded most of his vocal range, as limited as it was. Barnes here sounds more throaty, exhausted and downright poor in parts. West still pillages the Obituary well for all its worth, and there’s an almost punk/hardcore immediacy to a good deal of these cuts. The material is rapidly losing whatever little death metal edge was present and is fully going into that maligned stomping and stuttering dudebro groove metal territory that is widely despised for reasons I will not expand on here. Greg Gall is his usual boring and uncreative self, going into full hard rock drumming mode. Terry Butler is content to follow whatever one-dimensional riff West gives him, and despite being solely responsible for the rumbling low-end and overall heaviness quota, his playing is underachieving in the most vile way imaginable. Why these untalented folks again?

Another important thing to note is that Six Feet Under’s love for cover versions comes into full swing with “Warpath”. For this session the band chug and growl their way through Holocaust track ‘Death Or Glory’. Apparently this must have been some kind of resounding success because based upon the presence of cover tracks on this album and the one to follow, Metal Blade and Chris Barnes decided to make a cotton industry out of that. The results? The absolutely appalling and widely panned “Graveyard Classics” sub-brand of releases. Not only do these interpretations add nothing to the originals – why are these songs part of the band’s main releases in the first place? Also, when the cover tracks are the best material present on a band’s record, it is time to take a look inward and re-evaluate whether or not the band’s continued existence is worth all the trouble.

With “Warpath” Chris Barnes branched out lyrically away from the exclusive gore and horror themes, and it is the first Six Feet Under album to include political content. ‘War Is Coming’, ‘A Journey Into Darkness’, ‘Manipulation’ and ‘Caged and Disgraced’ are the political songs, while others dabble in more interpersonal subjects, such ‘Nonexistence’ and ‘As I Die’. A special mention must, of course, go out to the entirely awful ‘4:20’ – the band’s incoherent ode to marijuana and weed. This wasn’t very special given the time in the ‘90s when this album was released. In the mainstream there were several bands proclaiming their love for the leaf, whether they were Cypress Hill or Tom Petty. In the metal underground bands as Exit-13, Murphy’s Law and Cephalic Carnage were talking about pot legalization to its audiences. Six Feet Under cashing in on a trend? How novel.

“Warpath” is, above all else, a testament to ineptitude, stupidity and laziness. There’s no progression here, but regression has its hooks sunk into everything. The songs are zoned out, smoked out regurgitations of already reiterated songs that Obituary wrote a couple of years prior. Barnes’ vocal performance is nothing short of laughable. His grunts are weak and powerless, his clean singing is embarrassing and his shrieks impose fits of laughter. It’s hard to believe that this man led Cannibal Corpse through its classic era. Allen West retreads familiar ground yet again, and doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to differentiate Six Feet Under from his main band. Terry Butler boldly soldiers on in doing what he always has done: doubling the guitar riffs ad infinitum ad absurdum. Greg Gall, the least talented member of this band outside of Chris Barnes, lays down standard rock beats in the most unimaginative and least offensive way possible. These tracks are even simpler in construction and format than the ones that came before. Groove has taken over operations completely, and no amount of posturing is going to change that.

Does this surprise anyone? No. Just take a look at the cover artwork, a term used very loosely within context. It has the, admittedly instantly identifiable, SFU sigil that is superimposed over a daft and uninteresting looking band photo. The band had used excellent movie cover art for their preceding album just two years prior, yet here they are content with a band picture and a band sigil drawn by Barnes? Instead of having actual cover art and using the photography for the booklet, they go for the path of least resistance. Was Brian Slagel too busy counting money and calculating potential profit to care about product presentation? Was he so obsessed with rushing out this product to the fans that even he couldn’t bother to allocate an artist to craft a fitting album cover? Just to illustrate, the lack of standards and attention to detail begins here. A hatchet job on part of all involved, and no amount of media attention was going to mask that.

4 years, two albums and an EP after forming Six Feet Under already reduced themselves to the laughing stock and absolute bottom level of the genre. I might point out that Deicide released the only mediocre “Serpents Of the Light” in the same year as this album, in 1997. That band was at least three years away from their its period of stagnation and creative inertia. Malevolent Creation put out “In Cold Blood” that, despite its savage nature and the presence of one Derek Roddy, was average at best. After this album Allen West would break ranks to join Obituary for “World Demise” and its subsequent world tour. In his stead Six Feet Under would enlist Steve Swanson, guitarist of one-hit wonder Massacre. It’s funny that Six Feet Under opted to enlist Swanson, especially when you consider the fact that he was not in any shape the songwriter or creative force behind Massacre. That always was Rick Rozz. As things stand, “Warpath” is a disappointment and terrible album on all fronts.

After falling so deep, the band could only go up. Whether or not they were able to redeem themselves remained to be seen…

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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.