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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.

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With its second album “Pure Holocaust” Norwegian band Immortal comfortably transitioned into its known style. Whereas “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism” was slower, drenched in death metal stylings and generally on the atmospheric side, this new album is anything but. It is here that Immortal adopt its barbaric, minimalistic style of black metal with Abbath coming into his own, vocally as well as making his recording debut behind the drumkit. Although the cover depicts drummer Erik Brødreskift as part of the recording line-up, he was only involved as a session drummer for live work.

Different from the preceding album is that “Pure Holocaust” wastes no time in getting to the point, kicking off with ‘Unsilent Storms In the North Abyss’.  From the onset it is clear that Immortal sounds far more barbaric and leaner here. Having trimmed off all fat the eight songs of this record lay down the foundation for their third, more conceptually ambitious record “Battles In the North”. Abbath forgoes the shrieking and settles into his croaking frog vocal style, while Demonaz’ fluid riffing is far more minimalist and cold sounding compared to the thinly-veiled death metal riffs of the album that came before. Notable is that only ‘Frozen By Icewinds’ and ‘As The Eternity Opens’ contain a chaotic solo, something which was rather abundant on the band’s debut, but not so here.

Coming further into fruition is the band’s winter, frost, snow and ice concept, which songs as ‘Unsilent Storms In the North Abyss’, ‘The Sun No Longer Rises’, ‘Frozen by Icewinds’ and ‘Eternal Years On the Paths to the Cemetary Gates’ chronicle in loving detail in the lyric sheet. This difference in subject matter was rather unique at the time, and remains so to this day. The fantasy theme of Blashyrkh is already here in anything but name, and the subject is painted in brush strokes. In 2003-2004 US studio project Imperial Crystalline Entombment (leading to the fitting acronym I.C.E), uniting members of Divine Rapture and Aurora Borealis, paid homage to Immortal’s winter concept as they lifted it wholesale for their sole album “Apocalyptic End In White”.

Although “Pure Holocaust” is notably faster than its predecessor, there’s still a healthy reliance on midpaced sections and slow parts. Much of that would be abandoned on the next album, as tracks as ‘Eternal Years On the Paths to the Cemetary Gates’ attest to. Abbath’s recording debut as drummer is nothing short of impressive. Abbath is far more versatile than previous drummer Gerhard Herfindal in terms of speed, technique and fills. His endurance is jaw-dropping as many of the drum parts contain extended foot-blasting on the kickdrums and fairly elaborate fills to go along with those. This is one of two albums where Abbath provided studio drums, and his work here is leagues better than the somewhat amateurish battering that would grace the next album. In terms of production this is the most balanced sounding record of Immortal’s early catalog with outstanding work from Grieghallen Studio resident producer Eirik ‘Pytten’ Hundvin.

Along with growing musically and conceptually, the band’s signature cover art has grown in scope. The previous album had a goofy looking fire-breathing picture (probably inspired a good deal by the firebreathing picture of Bathory’s Quothorn) of all three members, here the band settles for a stylish black-and-white portrait. Central to the picture are Demonaz (on the left), Abbath (center) and live drummer Grim (on the right). Centered above the portrait is the classic Immortal logo, which was refined a bit from the one seen on “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism”. A fun observation is that all three men have dyed their hair black for the album cover, yet with the live video for ‘Unsilent Storms In the North Abyss’ it can be clearly seen that all three men are natural blondes.

“Pure Holocaust” is above all else a transitional album for Immortal. With the winter concept coming in bloom, and the newly adopted minimalistic style, it was not surprising that they decided to brand this “holocaust metal” in order to differentiate themselves from many similar sounding bands. Although not radically different from comparable hordes as the Swedish duo of Dark Funeral and Marduk – Immortal has more of a German thrash schwung to its riff set, and there is a sense of immediacy and urgency that is closer related to Australian early war-metal combos Corpse Molestation and Bestial Warlust than it is to any of their regional contemporaries. The album itself would be an important influence on American death/black metal outfit Angelcorpse, who accentuated the ancient German thrash influence to a more audible degree, although they clearly lifted their foundational concepts there.