Skip to content

cover-diabolic03.jpg

 

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.

cover-nile02.jpg

 

It is a difficult task to talk about a major band like Nile, and detail their shortcomings without rubbing long-time (or obedient? sycophantic?) fans the wrong way. These people tend to think in binaries and absolutes only, and every bit of criticism is met with hostility and anger. “Black Seeds Of Vengeance”, the band’s second record for Relapse Records, was their commercial breakthrough and the one that put them on the map internationally in terms of visibility and marketability. At a crossroads between the sound they had perfected through their demos and first album, and the growing technical expertise within the ranks, this album presents the band in a quandary. “Black Seeds Of Vengeance” would be the last record to feature original drummer Pete Hammoura, long-time vocalist/bass guitarist Chief Spires, and the first to include newly enrolled vocalist/guitarist Dallas Toler-Wade, who joined the ranks after the completion of “Amongst the Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka.”

3ca280ac0d2b5c1b91be8c6e54922de2Important to note is that Hammoura only played drums on one song for these sessions, namely ‘To Dream Of Ur’. Having severely damaged his arm during the North American tour in support of the preceding album, Derek Roddy was called upon to perform the studio sessions. Tony Laureano would step in for domestic and international roadwork. Anybody with a keen ear will hear the slight difference in production on the Hammoura cut and the remainder of songs for which Roddy laid down the drums. The songs were written with Hammoura’s style in mind, and one can’t help but notice Roddy’s influence over these tracks with his precise and tight delivery. This second album is denser, busier and more demanding than the debut album. It also is more atmospheric and complex.

Nile might have been at the forefront of innovation in terms of merging death metal with Egyptian segues, instrumentation and highly atmospheric interludes – their approach to death metal wasn’t exactly novel or brimming with original ideas. Far from it. The album picks up where “Amongst the Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka” left off, and piles more speed and technical playing upon it. Still Nile is merely retreading old, well-trodden grounds. Incantation, Monstrosity and Vader are most recognizable among the influences and techniques used, and the three-way vocal interaction excepted – this is album is hardly as innovating as many people make it out to be. I’ll concede that the high speed and level of technical skill to play this sort of material is awe-inspiring, demanding and requires a level of discipline and commitment that few will have, or can muster. That doesn’t change the fact that Nile wasn’t really doing anything of interest with the genre. This is meat-and-patatoes death metal played at ridiculous speeds and with three equally impressive vocalists. Thankfully, the songwriting saves the mediocrity of the style.

The title track is a trademark example of the band’s style. Combining the riffing of Incantation, with “In Dark Purity” era Monstrosity formatted song structure and a “De Profundis” era Vader level of energy and delivery, the band is able to wear its influences on its sleeves without being accused of outright stealing their decimating riffs, chord progressions, or overall presentation. The Egyptian segue during the chorus is highly satisfactory and the sparingness of its use only serves to magnify the atmospheric effect. Another thing that Nile always understood is the importance of leads/solos, and a track as ‘Defiling the Gates Of Ishtar’ proves that in spades. The leads and solo’ing push the song to its climax, and proves that Nile doesn’t need its most recognizable gimmick to be thoroughly effective. The use of choirs and additional instrumentation adds to the flavor, but people come to the band for high-speed death metal first, all the rest distant second.

‘The Black Flame’ is interesting for the sake of its ethnic chanted intro, and its ominous slow building opening passage that channeled Morbid Angel better than the real thing at the time of this record’s original release. This is followed by an instrumental track before giving way to the second signature track of this album, ‘Masturbating the War God’. Nile hadn’t changed all that much in the two years since the debut, because this track is a retread of the “Amongst the Catacombs…” style, just a bit faster, more evenly structured and with a better sense of pacing and melody. ‘Multitude Of Foes’, the writing debut for Toler-Wade, is a high mark for the record and his more technical, bouncing and busy writing style plays to the strengths of all involved. The song forms the basis for the next record, and Nile’s gradual change into a more technical, percussive and speed-oriented outfit. ‘Chapter For Transforming Into A Snake’ follows largely the same technique, but is more in the style of the preceding record. It is redeemed by grace of its absolutely stellar lead/solo. ‘To Dream Of Ur’, the only track to feature Pete Hammoura, has a different snare – and kickdrum sound (fuller, warmer) and displays what could have been had he not been injured, and thus forced to bow out the unit he co-founded.

For the first time artist Wes Benscoter was allowed to craft the cover artwork, and combined with the graphics and imagery provided by Adam Peterson “Black Seeds Of Vengeance” was the best looking Nile product up to that point. The recording at Sound Lab in South Carolina with producer Bob Moore results in a more balanced production job with additional levels of clarity and definition. The instrumental segues and ethnic instrumentation sound more roomy and far better realized this time around. On all fronts there has been significant progress made by all involved in this production. Nile had proved its worth with a second album this ambitious and wide in scope. It wouldn’t be until the next album that the band would be able to pull off this style convincingly and confidently. As a stepping-stone to greater things and better, more involved songwriting this record is the logical and connecting link of the band's early evolution out of their primitive roots. Despite the overall banality of the death metal aspect of this record, it is worthy of interest and purchase – and recommended to those who adore Nile’s earlier, more primitive take on their genre of choice.