August 11, 2014

Diocletian - Gesundrian

Written by Craig Hayes.

Artwork by Paolo Girardi

There are two clear choices if you want to attempt to make any sense of all those broken bodies filling up your news-feeds. You can put them all into some political or religious context, if that’s going to help you understand the backdrop to all the mayhem and murder we’re experiencing of late. Or, alternatively, you can just forget any intellectualising whatsoever, and accept that chaos reigns.

The latter choice might seem like a pessimistic or nihilistic way to view the world. But, let’s be honest. Whether it’s brought by sword or so-called ‘surgical’ strikes, all that inhuman carnage occurring in conflicts around the world is, in fact, all too human. That’s what we do. That’s what we've always done. We hack and smash, bomb and butcher, and heavy metal’s obviously deeply interested in our apparent desire to ensure this planet remains a slaughterhouse.

Some bands have chosen to issue dire warnings about war’s immense cost, while others have chosen to honour, what they see, as courage on the battlefield. Then there are groups like New Zealand-based Diocletian. A band whose sonic arsenal seemingly presses the point home that the entire universe is defined by ceaseless battles between opposing forces -- be they spectral or corporeal, cosmic or microscopic.

Listening to Diocletian is an exercise in the totality of conflict. The band is routinely hailed as occupying a leading role in the war metal battalions, and whether you think that descriptor is applicable or not, Diocletian certainly deals in combative and destructive sounds. There’s also the band’s militant stance to consider as well. Diocletian tolerate no half-measures, and there’s no sly winks at the camera. The band aren't interested in cheap stunts to sell their tunes, and the only strategy Diocletian indulge is backing up their minatory stance with music that’s unquestionably violent, and one-hundred percent belligerent.

Diocletian at Maryland Deathfest XII. Photo by Metal Chris

That’s more than evident on Diocletian's latest release, Gesundrian. The band makes clear that existence is -- as the title of their last full-length release argued -- a war of all against all. Gesundrian presents an uncompromising vision, embedded in an intimidating atmosphere, but that’s nothing new for Diocletian.

In 2009, the band’s full-length debut, Doom Cult, was rightly praised for bringing a wholly oppressive onslaught of black and death metal. A year later, the aforementioned War of All Against All arrived, and Diocletian’s profile rose even higher in the extreme metal underground. Comparisons to bands like Blasphemy, Conqueror, or Revenge were soon bandied about, and that makes sense. Similarly, Diocletian make hard-hearted music that makes no concessions and leaves no room for the weak-willed. It’s all a kick in your face, with hobnailed boots, and while it’s been four years since the last full-length from Diocletian, there’s been other baleful battering to enjoy.

In 2012, Annihilation Rituals (a crucial compilation of demo, split, and EP tracks), and Disciples of War (a split release with black/death villains Weregoat) documented Diocletian’s tyrannical supremacy. And in that same year, close allies Witchrist (the band featuring a couple of members of Diocletian in the ranks) released The Grand Tormentor, which is well worth tracking down, as are all of Witchrist’s ferocious releases.

Still, although there has been murderous music from Diocletian and kin to relish, it’s understandable that the anticipation surrounding Gesundrian’s release was high. Thankfully, Diocletian have delivered on Gesundrian by doing what they do best; namely, ignoring the theatrical, but still bringing a sense of the dramatic. There’s no room for flashy histrionics in Diocletian’s world, there’s just bold statements. And, as reports from the band’s appearance at this year’s MDF confirmed, what Diocletian display most is a commitment to intensity and brutality.

Diocletian at Maryland Deathfest XII. Photo by Metal Chris

Gesundrian brings plenty of that. The album is spilling over with full-force tooth and claw assaults that forego any hope of a ceasefire. Doomy opener “Cleaved Asunder” starts the album at a slower beat, bringing Paolo Girardi’s warrior on horseback cover art into view with a clash of steel, and then it’s heads-down hostilities from there on in.

There’s nary a pause for breath anywhere, but while Gesundrian is relentless, that doesn't mean that Diocletian have simply traded craftsmanship for straightforward barbarism. Tracks like “Summoning Fears”, “Traitor’s Gallows”, “Steel Jaws”, and “Zealot’s Poison” are replete with feral black and death metal. However, as much as those tracks are expected heavy hitters, with barbs aplenty, as a whole, Gesundrian is also the most compositionally perceptive release from Diocletian yet.

The raw, wall of noise production means all the songs are encased in a bulldozing mix. Yet, for the abundance of corrosive riffs, vitriolic vocals, and punishing drums, each song still maintains its own signature. In fact, as much as Gesundrian evokes all the chaos of this remorseless world, Diocletian have also corralled that maelstrom, to produce eight distinct and razor-sharp missives. There’s something to be said for the fact that the songs on Gesundrian retain distinct personalities, while also providing strength in numbers. It’s not uncommon for band’s of Diocletian’s ilk to simply concentrate on the brutishness, and nothing else, and while berserk and barbaric tunes are all well and good, if they're all a little same old same old they don't necessarily encourage repeated listens.

Gesundrian avoids that trap because the musicianship here is truly impressive, and Gesundrian contains some of Diocletian’s most adamantine riffs yet. One finely tuned and skull-smashing passage is followed by the next bludgeoning transition; making for an eight-song, 40-minute master class in expertly administered aggression.

All of Diocletian’s albums have been harbingers of cataclysmic metal. But, Gesundrian’s arrival on Bandcamp, at this point in time, sees it soundtracking a world bathed in blood. Obviously, you could listen to Gesundrian as a means of coping with that reality, if that’s going to help you sleep at night. However, Diocletian’s take no prisoners approach, and Gesundrian’s superbly executed bombardments, make a compelling argument that sadistic savagery lies a heartbeat away, for any of us.

Gesundrianis Diocletian’s most powerful release thus far. Buy it. Now.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Editor's note: As usual Osmose Productions only stream the first two tracks from the album. But on Diocletian's own page you can hear two more:

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

  1. This is easily one of the best albums of 2014. My favorite track is "Steel Jaws". I can't stop listening to it.

  2. I dig what I've heard of this album but reading about the band on-line, it appears that they are racist. Too bad because I can't support them if its true.

    1. I have read some accusations too, all I can say is to the best of my knowledge they are not racists.