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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.
Review originally written for Least Worst Option - www.leastworstoption.com
Counter to its feeling 'rushed', Vengeance Ascending was actually the proper Diabolic album of 2001, being released only a few weeks after Subterraneal Magnitude had finally arrived (due to delays). That can't be fun for any band, because which do you promote? Well, if I had been Aantar Coates and company, I would have just run with the sophomore, because Vengeance Ascending is one of those 'rush to the finish line' albums which gestates pure speed and brutality, but not much by way of interesting riffs or compelling songwriting. In fact, the one saving grace this album might possess would be the leads, as in "All Evils Inside", which provide about the only tangible journey up and above the monotonous blasting and double bass.
Certainly, the drums are a lot more incessant than the previous two albums, but there's just not that much else happening to distract your ear away from them. "Darken the Imagination" opens as if it were a long lost runoff from Altars of Madness, sans the quality riffing of Azagthoth, and then it bursts through the next 3-4 songs as if some hellish premature ejaculation. The rhythm guitars are functional enough, yet they never quite achieve the mesmerizing patterns necessary to conjure any real malevolence. In fact, if you were to remove the samples, the album would be a total bore up until the bridge/lead sequence in "Marked for Banishment", which is followed with a dark ambient trip called "The Inevitable", through which the listener can take a break before the tightly coiled thrashing that inaugurates "Possess the Strength". But the remainder of the cuts follow the same mired formula of blasted mediocrity, half-decent dynamics and solos thrust into the compositions too sparsely, like oasis of memory in a desert of forgetfulness.
The mix of the album is also less impressive than Subterraneal Magnitude, because it's just so level that nothing other than the leads ever stands out to the fore. They're still using a similar guitar tone to the previous albums, but it feels less potent somehow, failing to distinguish itself from Coates' abyssal battery. The lyrics also felt a little less interesting than the two before, even if its skirting about the same occult pageantry. Diabolic seemed to be going for an all out death race of aggression which would impress those rabble who care for nothing else than sheer wall of force metal with zero immortal qualities, or at the very least a Morbid Angel knockoff, but they wound up with an album that has no real character beyond its barbarian forcefulness and a few spidery, resonant leads.
I think it's safe to assume that many people reviewing this third offering from Diabolic will make it a point to mention that a) they are from Tampa, and b) Joe Petagno did the cover art. While the band may actually benefit from this sort of exposure, these facts are trivial, at most. In its entirety, "Vengeance Ascending" reveals a much greater picture than these stereotypes provide, and to allow either of them to influence your opinion is to sell yourself short. The most obvious indication that Diabolic are serious about their trade is the crazed drumming of Aantar Coates. Coates mixes equal parts of Richard Christy and Dave Lombardo to create a style that is technically furious, but not to the point of overkill. While I can certainly get a thrill out of inhuman displays of aggressive drumming, I am glad that Coates opted to keep things under control. Otherwise, I might have overlooked the stellar leads of guitarists Brian Malone and Jerry Mortellaro. Before giving "Vengeance Ascending" its first spin, I was beginning to think that the ability to craft strong, memorable solos had become a lost art. In fact, a good number of bands choose to omit them altogether these days. Not so for Diabolic, who prove to be of a truly different breed. I say this not for the mere inclusion of solos, but for their quality. In thinking of comparisons, the maniacally twisted trade-offs of Hanneman and King during Slayer's "Hell Awaits" / "Reign In Blood"- era would be a good place to start.
Picking out highlights is difficult, but the most obvious ones are the off-time riffing of "All Evils Inside", and the old-school death metal leanings of "The Shallowed". The latter also impresses with some chilling background vox from bassist Paul Ouelette, whose raspy black metal-ish snarls work well against his usual delivery (which sounds like late Exodus vocalist Paul Baloff in the midst of a testosterone overdose). Among these gems is a well-placed atmospheric track ("The Inevitable"), which combines an air raid siren with ample guitar noise to provide a bit of calm before the head-spinning assault of "Possess the Strength". The album's conclusion comes in the form of "Majestic Satanic", a minor harmony-drenched blitzkrieg that eventually segues into a grandiose outro melody. It may have taken three studio albums to get the world's attention, but Diabolic are now at the top of their game. I'll be damned if they don't turn some heads this time.
The two reviews of Diabolic's Vengeance Ascending are very good. One shows a positive aspect of the album while the other shows a very negative aspect. I tend to agree with the latter, but I will add on to it of course. This album is no different from all the other death metal albums out there. You know the ones that kind of fall in the category of just doing the same thing. Blast beats, technical riffs, growling vocals, etc. etc.
This album has good songs and really bad songs. The first couple of songs are pretty bad, while the middle ones tend to be better. For the most part the riffs are straight power chord progressions with some very technical soloing. The soloing varies from song to song, while most of the times the solos are very sloppy and unimpressive. Sometimes it is like he is just hitting any fret just to fill the solo; these solos lack a model and enthusiasm. The singing is your typical growled death metal vocals. They are very heavy like Kataklysm or Six Feet Under. Nothing special or over the top about the vocals though.
Another thing that stands out is the drummer. I am not a drummer so I am not for sure on how this goes, but the drummer does these rolls on the snare that sound really awesome; and I have to point out I have never heard this type of sound before. The drumming really helps this album pull the pieces together and save it from being a hideous abortion. Otherwise everything is decent about this album. Production sucks at points of the albums also.
What makes this album over all bad is the poor song structure. It's like they didn't even think of how to piece this album together. Like the band showed up in the studio and started playing. Fans of Diabolic might hold this album in higher regards, but I just see it as your typical death metal release. Not bad, but nothing worth spending to much for unless you are a die hard fan. Some of the good songs are The Shallowed, The Inevitable, and Celestial Pleasures.