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After listening to this album a couple times in fits and starts, as I read and fucked around on the internet, I decided I wanted to really listen to it. I'd already heard enough to be very impressed, but hadn't invested enough energy to connect with the music. I wanted to get it. Normally, what I'd do is crank this up on the speakers, stand in the middle of the room, and headbang, gesticulate, thrash out, whatever. But I'm recovering from surgery at the moment, and extremely tired. So I did something different. I just lay down on my bed and let War of All Against All wash over me.
In an instant, I was half asleep. My imaginings transformed into dreamings. But then a particularly commanding riff would snap me out of it, and for a minute or so I would listen with rapt attention before lapsing back into slumber. Even as I dozed, the music loomed over me like an iron fortress veiled in fog. In my most vivid dream, I looked down on a glowing chamber where jackal-headed gods carried out some brutal rite. I owe these visions to Diocletian.
The trance passed as the album reached its denouement. I woke up a few minutes into the fifteen-minute final track, "Fortress of the Unconquerable." On my first couple listens I'd quickly lost interest and skipped over it, taking it for the usual pompous outro track. But since I was already lying in bed, I left it on. I remember feeling slightly disappointed with myself for falling asleep, since I hadn't consciously paid attention to the album in the way I had hoped. Then, I fell asleep again.
Some five minutes later, I swam back into consciousness only to be seized by sudden dread. I felt as if my surroundings were no longer safe, as if mundane reality had receded and the vacuum had been filled by a hostile force. Instinctively, I tried to figure out what was wrong. Then I remembered there was music. I heard layers of pulsing drones and shimmering, shifting humming noises. Over all of it was a repetitive keening, the lament of some fantastical instrument that must have been half flute, half sawblade. I was about 2/3 into "Fortress of the Unconquerable," and the plodding martial riffs had given way to an extraordinarily eerie ambient passage.
It had really crept up on me, I thought. And then I realized that this was the sound of the war of all against all. Because most of the time it's not the thunder of guns and the clang of steel on steel. Mostly it's a secret war, those undercurrents of violence that course constantly around our feet. The little acts of mastery and domination that characterize our relationship to the world, for worse and for better. The hostility buried within apparently civil interactions. The power of the police and the schools. The strangulating grasp of the market's "invisible hand." And underneath it all the world-wrecking forces of Chaos, ever present yet ever concealed, whispering to us of ruin and liberation...
Listen to this one the whole way through.
(originally written for Trial By Ordeal, www.trialbyordeal666.blogspot.com)
After several well received releases (including 2009's Doom Cult), Diocletian returns with their best effort yet, with 2010's War of All Against All. While songs on the Sect of Swords EP presented listeners with a sound leaning more towards black metal, Doom Cult displays Diocletian's Canadian war metal influences, with bands such as Revenge coming to mind.
War of All Against All, however, has Diocletian showing off more of their death metal influence, yet retaining the dark atmosphere that their previous output has always had in the music. The sound of war and explosions greet the listener on Black Dominion, before a doom-laden riff reminiscent of death/doom bands such as Coffins introduces the listener to the chaos that is to come on War of All Against All. Do not be fooled though as the introduction is merely a means of preparing listeners for the main onslaught as the muffled growls of Southwell, the frenzy riffs and drumming begin, the trem-picked guitar riffs leaving the listener anxious and constantly on the edge of his seat. The chaotic guitar solo on songs such as Infernos once again remind listeners of the aforementioned Revenge. The rumbling bass provides an added heaviness to the music, with instances such as on Kingdom of Rats being a good example where the bass is given much higher presence, leaving a deeper impact on listeners.
The drumming here is nothing flamboyant or fanciful though, as it seems that the main purpose is to maintain the speed and intensity of the music, with the constant blastbeats that back up the rest of the band. The at times echoey tone of the drums, sounding as if it were a rumbling thunder at the background certainly provides a heavy touch to the music. The drums also display the various influences on the band as well, such as the pattern and the pick-scratching on Might is Right, instantly bringing bands such as Archgoat to mind. Throw in a nice, raw production and you now have the perfect blend for some dirty black/death metal.
While songs such as Desolate Earth and Blood Aeon come and go in a whirlwind, the finale of the album, Fortress of the Unconquerable is a 16 minute epic track, and presents a different face of the Diocletian that we all know. The howling wind and the haunting atmosphere is broken by the once again doom-ish riffs that were presented at the start of the album, a pace that the song will carry on in for the rest of the track, pierced by the seemingly random noises at the background, almost as if invisible people were whispering in the dark, driving the listener almost insane. Finally, after more than 5 minutes of droning guitars, vocals come into the picture, an almost welcoming moment, yet staying at that same, painfully slow pace before leaving listener with a final 8 minutes of droning and feedback once more, this time without the guitars, replaced by seemingly random sound effects instead.
While Fortress of the Unconquerable sounds like an experimental effort by Diocletian, it certainly alienates fans of previous outputs of the band which are considerably more straightforward. The first 9 tracks have undeniably been an enjoyable moment for me, but Fortress of the Unconquerable caused the experience to slightly falter, taking a few listens to get used to.
Diocletian was an emperor responsible for the most harrowing period of persecution of Christians in the Roman empire. A pillar of society then. Diocletian is a band responsible for the most forward thinking take on war metal to date. War Of All Against All takes the supremely constructed war metal epitaph of last years Doom Cult and injects a new found sense of barbarism and chaos to proceedings. Diocletian have always cut against the war metal grain with their uniquely tailored approach to the genre; gone are the bombastic basslines and heavily distorted, jumbled song arrangements, replaced instead with tempo variations and atmospheric nuance. This is a construction.
Album opener Black Dominion wastes no time in setting tempo or direction. No sooner does the sample preclude before launching into a heavily muted riff that could easily find a home on any Portal recording. The audibility of each instrument greatly adds to the effect of the music. War metal musicians take note: I do not care how much you think uneven mixing adds to an albums atmospheric experience, it masquerades an inability to compose atmosphere in the face of bands like Diocletian, whose adept production usurps even the throne of Revenge. I want to hear what the guitar is doing. Got that? (Do not get me wrong, I have always enjoyed the bombastic necrohell of Revenge and the driving epiphanies Sacramentary Abolishment are able to conjur, but Diocletian draw new blood).
As the barage continues across the scope of the album and the drums employ a host of rhythms, from the staple black metal binary blast of bass and snare to the restrained lashings of doom, a whole host of atmospheres take shape. Might Is Right slows down proceedings, employing what I consider one of the riffs of the year (see 1:10 in to the track). Desolate Earth is the shortest and fastest track on War Of All Against All and succeeds in raping, pillaging and annihilating with its stereotypically chaotic blackened war metal. Album closer Fortress Of The Unconquerable is over sixteen minutes in length. Breaking the track down, we find ourselves lurching through seven minutes of haunting, hypnotic metal. There are no driving sections of metal here. No throat burdened vocals. No promise of cliche at all. Instead, the track morphs in to a martial rhythm, underpinned by distorted spoken word before falling through ambience. It is claustrophobic and highly engaging.
The guitar tone throughout the album permeates my hazy memory with odd sections that sound identical to a lot of Seepia-era Portal. The richness of atonal harmonies against the ridiculous drum work of C. Sinclair perhaps? Maybe. Chances are this has more to do with the overall quality of musicianship on offer. Innumerable sparks of audial likeness can be found beneath the maelstrom of the first listen. Diocletian write riffs that haunt you for days (see 1:20 in Death Tyrant). The album never lurches in to the unremarkable ether of experimentation and instead adapts and transforms themes around aggression. A very large amount of variation that builds on where Doom Cult left off to [hopefully] inspire and infuse the next generation of war [metal] veterans to create something capable of topping this ritual. Any self respecting metal fan should be aware of Diocletian. The album is available now from Invictus Productions, along with the superbly crafted Doom Cult LP.
While I loved the wall-of-sound production Diocletian used on Doom Cult, this record's clear and crushing mix sounds even better. The bass and rhythm guitars are heavy as hell, yet the vocals and lead guitar parts shine through, and everything's easy to make out; this makes the band's chaotic riff-based songs much easier to follow. Best of all, the drums are much more audible than they were on Doom Cult, and they give the album a whole new dimension of variety and power. Overall, this sound on this album reminds me of Diocletian's Decimator mCD, only with more muscle.
As with the last album, "relentless" is the keyword here. Diocletian constantly bludgeons the listener with varied drumming and churning riffs, all over a foundation of rumbling bass lines. The result is unbelievably heavy, yet there's plenty of variety here: this album shows more of the band's death metal roots than the previous one did, even though there are fewer solos. There's a good dose of Bolt Thrower in the slow parts, and the shifting guitar work and crazy solos in "Death Tyrant" remind me of Order From Chaos; there are even a couple of one-minute songs with a heavy grindcore influence. Every single song bears the Diocletian mark, though.
After a short intro, "Black Dominion" starts the album off with a distinctive, industrial drum/riff pattern which then dissolves into headlong chaos... you couldn't ask for a better introduction to this band. "Desolate Earth" is short and to-the-point, with grinding guitar and one of the most memorable guitar lines on the album, all packed into a minute thirteen. The title track is as overwhelming as its Hobbesian name suggests: it really does feel as though you're under attack from all sides, as the drums and guitars pound you like unstoppable mortars! The incredible, doom-laden "Might is Right" is a fitting tribute to Ragnar Redbeard, bristling with vicious pick slides and monolithic riffs. Between the stomping mid-paced sections, cavernous vocals, and triumphant main theme, this has quickly become my favorite Diocletian song. "Death Tyrant" is nearly as good; this song is packed with great drumming and simple-yet-clever riffing. "Infernos" combines an over-the-top beginning with a rumbling middle section and an anthemic, stomping ending -- headbanging is mandatory with this one!
The album's closer, "Fortress of the Unconquerable", is the doomiest thing this band has yet recorded. Crushing bass and guitar combine with stripped-down drumming to form layers of oppressive, industrial heaviness. Distant, echoing vocals will have you straining to make them out, but whether or not you manage to comprehend them, the message is clear: "Chaos... chaos... chaos..."
I must admit that I don't like the outro, though: the high-pitched screeching which ends the album would have been interesting for a minute or two, but it's difficult not to skip when it goes on for five. It makes it hard to listen to this album on repeat, which is a bit of a shame, because WoAAA is otherwise perfectly suited for it.
I can't recommend this album enough. Anyone who liked Doom Cult is sure to enjoy this, as will those who preferred the clearer production on the band's mCDs and singles... and newcomers to the band should prepare to be overwhelmed. War of All Against All is easily the best war metal release of 2010, and a strong contender for best overall. Highest recommendations.
Standout tracks: "All Against All" "Might is Right", "Death Tyrant", "Infernos"
Review by vorfeed: http://www.vorfeed.net