As I grow older, I’ve learned that taking time to make sure your creative output is as sparkly, shiny, and impressive as possible is paramount to a healthy creative life. Music is no exception to this rule. Finland’s Diablerie released their sole album, Seraphyde, back in 2001. With only a couple of EPs since, mainman Henri Villberg returns with the long-awaited follow-up, the ambitiously-titled The Catalyst vol. 1: Control, the start of a planned thematic trilogy of albums1. With delays between albums comparable to the likes of Wintersun and Necrophagist, one would hope that Villberg and company brought the goods to lay waste to the masses with their industrialized madness.
The good news is that Control picks up where Seraphyde left off. Problem is, Control also sounds like a product of 2001. Opener “Hexordium: The Final Realisation That You Don’t Matter” (really) combines Digimortal-era Fear Factory and Static-X riffing with jackhammer drumbeats. Villberg mostly growls until the latter half of the song, when he tries to emulate Devin Townsend with mixed results, especially the ill-fated high wail at 1:53. Thankfully, the song moves at an energetic clip, and despite the dated sound, you can’t help but bob your head a bit here and there. Also, at under three minutes, the song’s brevity and energy work in its favor.
In fact, Diablerie works best when they’re flying at you at hyper speed. Album highlight “Rabid (Dogs of Church and State)” is easily the best Strapping Young Lad homage I’ve heard in years, with Villberg’s rapidly spat vocals and lumbering bass, and Petri Mäkipää’s energetic drumming. Likewise, “Odium Generis Humani” bursts with frenetic energy, a catchy keyboard melody, and some ripping leads by Tomi Ullgrén and Kimmo Tukiainen. “Odium” Generis Humani” would also be one of only two songs to feature lead guitar work, and it’s a welcome respite from the straight-ahead trajectory of the songs. Sadly, the throwaway throwbacks of yesteryear outnumber the quality songs. Closer “I am The Catalyst” is nine minutes of mostly atmospheric build-up with a weak climax. “Wear My Crown” will have you shouting “MORTAL KOMBAT!!!” with its robot-voiced verses and nü-metal riffing. “Osiris” feels like two distinct songs in its seven-minute length. “Selves” even adds some syncopated Meshuggahnisms in the drums, but the nü-ness kills it dead.
Despite the dated, mechanical feel, Control is surprisingly dynamic. While abrasive and chaotic, not once does Control feel painful to the ears. Still, the guitars take a major backseat to the keyboards, which are front-and-center. The drums and bass are buried, with “Rabid (Dogs of Church and State)” being the only time the latter makes a noteworthy appearance. There’s so much going on sonically that I was amazed when my dynamic range finder software kicked back the score below. But the biggest problem lies in the fact that bands are pushing the industrial sound further into adventurous territories, and Diablerie sounds like they’re stuck in a time when Manic Panic and JNCOs ruled the roost. Many of us have moved on from that.
Yet, I can’t fully condemn Control. When the band puts its collective head down and rages, Control becomes infectious and energetic. Sadly, those moments are few and far between, and the result is an album that feels so much like a product of its era with very little to add to it. Maybe the next two outings can yield some surprises, but for now, it’s best to move on.