Death metal is a victim of its own PR. Nearly every band touts itself as the most brutal, the most devastating, the most over-the-top thing to come down the pike since the Spanish Inquisition. A certain amount of preaching to an already extant choir is understandable, of course, but there's so much more to good death metal than the smash-your-own-teeth-in aspect.

Take Diabolic, yet another in an astonishingly long line of great death-metal bands from Tampa, Florida. Sure, they play fast enough to break the sound barrier, and they growl a lot. Underneath the predictable genre-tropes, though, lies an almost contemplative heart. Their latest album, Infinity Through Purification, is an immaculately sequenced album that hides a Sonic Youth fixation under its obligatory Morbid Angel skin. Like Poland's Decapitated, Diabolic is interested mainly in the trance-inducing aspects of death metal: What happens if you play the same gabba-speed riff 14, or 18, or even 28 times in a row? How's it feel to let a song's speeded-up bridge stretch out for an extra eight bars? If we're going to give the drummer some, to borrow a phrase from James Brown, then why not give him some more?

Naturally, any given death-metal band rises or falls on the strength of its guitar solos, and Diabolic's have matured from the de rigueur workouts of their previous efforts into something far more jaw-dropping and mystical. They don't overdo it; soloing takes a back seat to the surprising pursuit of groove throughout Infinity Through Purification, and is used more for shading than for special effects. The gambit pays off. By the end of the album, one has the same what'd-I-just-go-through feeling that you might expect from a prog-rock double album, or from a really good art-house flick. For this reason and several others, including a strong entry in the Best Song Title of 2003 competition ("Procession of the Soul Grinders"), Diabolic can be safely moved from the "somewhat interesting" file into "nearly crucial" bin -- where the pickings are slimmer but worth much more of your time.

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