After seven long years floating in the NetherRealm, California tech-death behemoths Decrepit Birth return with their 4th and most punishing album yet, Axis Mundi. 2017 sees the rebirth of the band’s ultra-brutal sound previously explored on their first album, …And Time Begins. Taking that framework, the DB crew plunge to new levels of brain expanding musicality like a shot of DMT injected straight to the cerebral cortex. Time has not slowed these guys down even a fraction, quite the contrary for it seems to have only emboldened them to hone their extreme musical aesthetic.
The album opener “Vortex of Infinity…Axis Mundi” is rather aptly titled since after a short sci-fi tinged intro and the double kicks hit, it leaves the listener feeling like the ground has crumbled below plunging you into the journey that is this endless void of extremity. The “spirit guide” reaches out to lead the way through the terrain, rife with angular riffing, counterpointed bass lines, and otherworldly blasting. The Schuldiner-esque melodic intro is just a tease that quickly cascades into familiar DB territory but, there are plenty of little nuggets of surprise, including keyboard textures and even sing-talking vocals seemingly influenced by the band Atheist. Those elements are littered throughout the album, adding much appreciated spice to the decrepit brew of the California crew.
Compared to Diminishing Between Worlds and Polarity, Axis Mundi sees Matt Sotelo taking a less melodic path in terms of songwriting. The overt Chuck Schuldiner (DEATH) influence from the aforementioned albums is mostly lacking this time around. Instead DB mainly gives favor to the technicality aside from a few moments, as in “Spirit Guide,” most notably in “Ascendant,” and the instrumental closer “Embryogenesis.” Overall the balance from the torrents of crunching-riffs, to the soaring melodicism, is done mostly sparingly throughout the album, offering respite just as you become fatigued from the onslaught. While not completely abandoned, it would have been a nice touch to have a more equal blend of the two elements.
A few points of contention: tempo and the elephant in the room, vocals. Majority of BDM bands seem to lack diversity in tempos and DB is no exception. The bulk of the songs on Axis Mundi fall into similar tempo range and beat subdivisions, which honestly becomes a bit taxing near the end of the 40-minute trek. Secondly, with music as complex and well-arranged as this, it’s almost as if the vocals get a free pass to gurgle along without much effort phrasing wise. Most of the vocals and lyrics are completely unintelligible, which seems in-congruent, since the song titles and artwork reflect something much deeper in terms of concept and substance. While the vocal style works 80% of the time, some variety in delivery would certainly elevate the music to even higher levels.
Fans that have stuck through the seven-year slump or addendum’s to the band won’t be disappointed, honestly, they will genuinely be amazed by this record. All their hallmark elements remain and are at their zenith: the ubiquity of double bass and blast beat flurries, the juxtaposition/coalescence of slam riffs and technical riffing, active and *gasp* audible bass lines, rounded off with sub-human death growls all delivered in earnest. The crisp production values capture the DB crew in all their brutal glory. At this point in their career Decrepit Birth are an institution, a benchmark of modern technical death metal, taking metal musician proficiency to otherworldly levels and proving Axis Mundi will be a tough one to top.