I recently found myself engaged in a conversation with a buddy who, upon learning I was spinning the newest Destruction album outside of his earshot, naturally asked about the quality and merit of the band's 15th album. With both of us being of advanced chronology, but still young and mentally together enough to recall our initial exposure to the Germans via their '80s output — the Bestial Invasion of Hell demo, the Sentence of Death and Mad Butcher EPs as well as the Infernal Overkill and Eternal Devastation albums — the answer was expectantly middle of the road. Unfair as it may be to the band and their ceaseless presence since 1983, old-timers naturally have a different perspective on the occasion of a new Destruction album falling into laps.
Back in the more barren days of extreme music, the then-trio from the deep South/eastern banks of the Rhine was a revelation, what with the intricate flourishes of staccato riffing, terse half-step happy guitar sequences and solos that presented like sonic fencing parries as delivered by cigar-slinging axe wielder Mike Sifringer, bassist/vocalist Marcel "Schmier" Schirmer's caustic snarl and ear-piercing screams and the two-step pitter-patter of original drummer Tommy Sandmann and his subsequent replacements. With time came musical and personal maturity, artistic shifts, differing priorities and stinker albums. Happens to the best of them; you can set your watch to it. And while there have been moments of shining luminosity and forgettable chum since the band's commonly accepted low point (1998's The Least Successful Human Cannonball), the trick for those of us longer-in-the-tooth who discovered the band in the '80s versus those who've discovered the band sometime since Y2K is to extract ourselves from our modified DeLoreans and assess Diabolical for its own merit and not comparatively because it'll never generate that same youthful excitement their earlier works did for our virgin ears.
At first glance, not having Sifringer as part of the present lineup — he left under an unceremonious cloud last year — doesn't bode well for anyone involved. Schmier may have been the face of Destruction and towering presence lo these many years (he is literally at least a foot taller than his former counterpart), but it was mostly Mike's taut approach to speed, technique and ability to wrangle ear worms out of a flurry of notes that put the band on the map. As an opening salvo to doubters old and young, new and not-so-new, Diabolical bursts out of the gate with the storming title track that not only features a shifty galloper of a raging riff, but an air-raid siren screech to punctuate that Destruction is alive and well. The song itself puts a number distinct phases on display as the verse transitions between dark thrash and a major key foil as an anthemic chorus stretches multi-syllables into a sing-a-long after which immaculately-phrased solos lacerate over classic Metallica/classic rock-type riff alterations. Next up on the docket is "No Faith in Humanity" which transitions from tri-tonic ascending/descending ripping to Wacken-sized choruses with guitarists Martin Furia and Damir Eskić holding their own with solos that transcend rudimentary show-off shred in the incorporation of grit, swing and even a little country-ish twang at one point.
So, at this stage of the game, if one's initial exposure to Destruction happened to be these two tracks from this particular album, one might envision a general bubbling over of excitement about the band, whether or not they were the same dudes (or reasonable facsimile of) who wrote "Bestial Invasion," "The Mad Butcher" and "Curse the Gods." As the cynical amongst us might imagine, the relentlessness of those first two tracks isn't maintained with the same ferocity and intensity. Diabolical begins to wean when they ease up on the gas during "Repent Your Sins," though the chorus is still powerful and worthy of more than a few flagons of mead being hoisted aloft at an oversold European festival.
Unfortunately, a solid middle chunk of the album barrels along on a thrashing hamster wheel. Songs like "Whorefication," "Tormented Soul" and the ironically titled "State of Apathy" are done with an aching attention paid to painting by numbers. At least attention is paid to giving punters something to hang their hats on in terms of continued strength in the chorus department is never far from Destruction's song writing formula. On the other hand, "Ghost of the Past" is unique in that many of the cadence decisions are fleetingly reminiscent of Macabre's nursery rhyme playfulness. "Servant of the Beast" also goes beyond the pale with noise rock atonality thrown into the chugging speed, a typically huge chorus and a lead guitar blazing informally overtop some Clive Burr-meets-DJ Fontana hoe-down drumming. To top it all is album closer, a cover of GBH's "City Baby Attacked by Rats" which is surprisingly worthy of a hearty two fingers in the air salute.
Diabolical kind of leaves us all in a similar spot as where we were at the start of this mess. It's definitely Destruction despite the subtraction of a founding third. Overall, it's an above-average offering that demonstrates a band that still knows how to fire up the engine after all these years and write massive choruses, even at ridiculously fast tempos.