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While it still falls well short of the lofty high-water mark set by the spectacular Vittra, Diabolical is a dependable slab of Naglfarian vitriol well worthy of one of the more rapturous spots in the melodic black metal realm. As with most of Naglfar's modern output, Diabolical consists of one part Old Man's Child enhanced by Dissection-quality melodic twin leads and classy riffs. Rydén's choppy, blackened yowl rounds out the band's primary armament, which remains an ample force to be reckoned with.
While much of Naglfar's post-Vittra output has the proclivity to blur together into a nebulous - albeit pernicious - mass of shapeless grit, much of Diabolical manages to keep it's head above the tepid water thanks to the guitarists' tendency to stack riff upon riff into what essentially becomes the riffing equivalent of Jenga; the entire ordeal risks collapse due to scattershot ambition, but the same adherence to a solid tier of invasive tremolos and swarming powerchords yields consideration of even more productive songwriting avenues. Hell, just check out the entirety of "12'th Rising," which melds the somber dissonance of Enthrone Darkness Triumphant with the bubbling-over hatred more commonly associated with fellow Swedes Dissection.
Many of the stronger cuts here can be considered proto-"I Am Vengeance" variants supplemented with more of a throwback disposition thanks to occupying a spot five years earlier in Naglfar's timeline. From this point of view, Diabolical serves as a functional-enough gap-bridger between the enthralling Vittra and the far inferior Sheol. Perhaps it was the looming departure of Hansson in 2000, but Naglfar has never been able to come close to this level of appeal ever since. The shift of Olivius from bass to lead vocals has done little to change the band's primary approach, so what is the excuse?
As stated above, Diabolical still falls prey to many of the pitfalls Naglfar themselves have well-worn to the point of obscenity. Inherently, the band relies on the same familial, tired note progressions and diabolical hooks. The formula on it's own embodies a genocidal war machine matched by few in primal abandon, but a few more "out of left field" departures like the piano-driven instrumental "A Departure in Solitude" would have done wonders toward achieving a state of more acrimonious equilibrium. Somewhere deep down, a spectacular winner of a melodic black metal outfit lurks within Naglfar themselves, but they repeatedly kneecap themselves and have now found themselves rolling down a dangerously overcooked cinematic path similar to Shade Empire's later duds like Zero Nexus and Omega Arcane. As it stands, Diabolical is the final gasp of sorts of Naglfar's truly respectable origins, and remains criminally unknown and forgotten, If you think Sheol is an angry mother of an album, you ain't seen nothin' yet.
Diabolical may as well be considered the last good Naglfar album because almost everything they've done after this suffers from tiresome songwriting and bland ideas in attempt to become more mainstream. Diabolical may be nothing more than a Dissection ripoff for most people, but there is still a lot of quality to be found here and some reasons to listen to it more than once.
At first, Diabolical sounds similar to all the well-known Scandinavian melodeath/meloblack bands because of its "poppy" nature, but due to its cloudier production, vocal style, and flow of the songs, there is a lot in common with Dissection here. The lead guitar riffs drive most of the music. There is nothing too complex here, but most songs are memorable because of the catchy riffs. After that, the vocals, drums, and synths aren't as memorable. This isn't to say they are done poorly, but after years of listening to this album, I don't really remember them as much. Again, I think it has to do more with the cloudier production. All the elements do fit together well - especially on a song like 12th Rising, one of the better ones on Diabolical. Most of the songs have a natural flow - they don't stick to some arbitrary formula where there has to be a guitar solo after two verses or some random breakdown in between. Fast songs stay consistently fast and there aren't any big surprises. You might consider this album pretty predictable, but the music is entertaining enough so that it's a non-issue.
One thing I do like most about this Naglfar album is that the vocals are much better here. The rough production sort of forces the vocalist to sing (or growl?) with more heart and as a result, the music appears more genuine. As far as Jens vocals go, they are your typical higher pitched, screaming shrieks. Nothing too original, but it certainly isn't hurting the music.
Diabolical is a good album to check out if you were a big fan of the popular Dissection albums. The guitarwork may not be as slick and the song writing might not be as varied, but it's great choice if you're looking for something catchy and easy to listen to. Naglfar, like Dissection, even used a nice 2 minute piano interlude, so if you like stuff like that, it's more icing on the cake. Diabolical won't have the replay value of other albums from different bands, but it's a worthy listen if you want something entertaining.