Decrepit Birth – Axis Mundi

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.

Origin – Unparalleled Universe

The titans of inhuman warp speed, song complexity that could rival Quantum mechanics homework, and planet shattering brutality, ORIGIN reemerge with yet another Tech-Death masterclass on Unparalleled Universe.  During the three-year touring cycle for 2014’s Onnipresent the band wrote majority of the new material while on the road.

The album starts off in a typically brutal fashion with the aptly titled “Infinitesimal to the Infinite,” which blasts off 16th note brutality at ludicrous speed, blurring the lines of what is even humanly possible for a metal band to perform. There are enough riffs and drum fills in this one song to possibly fill another lesser, or more human, band’s entire album. I don’t know how much coffee these guys drink, but the unrelenting speed throughout Unparalleled Universe certainly defies logic. ​There are moments that allude to some of their older material, particularly on “Mithridatic” which hearkens back to “Lethal Manipulation (The Bonecrusher Chronicles)” level of catchiness. The epic 10-minute track “Unequivocal” is certainly the most surprising tune found on the album. The first half, while still extreme, has a more thought out song structure (verse, chorus, verse etc) and somewhat melodeath tinged riffage. The latter half however takes this theme to its next logical extreme with a drawn out, completely epic outro that seems to be channeling classic metal with soaring melodic (uplifting?) guitar lines. This track really stands out from the utter chaos found on the rest of the material and serves as the perfect ending point for the record. It begs to be said however, that the cover of Brujeria’s “Revolucion” is a total head scratcher. While in and of itself, “Revolucion” is a fun song and the ORIGIN boys do it justice, its place among the other songs seems just plain odd and somewhat diminishes the epic ending of the previous track. The production is right up there with all their previous efforts, with the mix capturing clear and concise performances.

The album overall seems a little less produced than previous efforts, leaning towards a more organic sound. It literally sounds like you are in the studio listening to the band record live. I find this a preferable mix compared to other bands in the Tech-Death scene with ultra-processed guitars and drums where every rack tom sounds like a kick drum. This production really lends itself to showcasing each member: Paul Ryan’s insane trem picking and sweep riffs, Mike Flore’s popping bass lines, and Jason Keyser’s mix of high screams mixed with articulated growls. John Longstreth’s signature caffeine fueled hell storm of unrelenting double bass, blasts, and fills are in no short supply on this record, captured clearly and concisely in the mix. While Longtime fans should know what to expect from an ORIGIN album at this point in their career, all the hallmark elements the Kansas City/LA/NY crew are known for are all here in as fine of form as ever: face melt speed, otherworldly riffing, and breakdown’s heavy enough to tear the space-time continuum. While nothing here is technically breaking new ground for the band, the band does show some semblance of songwriting maturity with this record. Honestly this is a welcome change and hopefully a sign of things to come, but for now, ORIGIN prove to be seemingly unstoppable from delivering the goods.

Decapitated – Anticult

Polish extreme metallers Decapitated return with Anticult another slab of grooving, whiplash inducing heaviness. Voog and company continue down the path already forged on Carnival is Forever and Blood Mantra by further blurring the lines between groove metal and death metal: Foot not completely set in either camp. While decidedly even groovier than their previous album was, the songs are impeccably written and arranged. While other bands in the extreme metal genre seem to be trying to one-up each another in terms of riff complexity and speed, Voog seems content on channeling chug masters a la Pantera, Meshuggah, Lamb of God, and dare I say even Fear Factory.

On the opening track, “Impulse”, the moody and dark clean guitar work first explored on CIF and BM find their way back. The brooding riff foreshadows the journey ahead; memorable, crushing, and devastatingly heavy songs. The band obviously has simplified their songwriting approach at this point in their career by focusing on well-arranged and easy to digest riffs, but fear not as there is plenty of tinnitus inducing brutality to be found throughout. “One eyed nation” and “Anger Line” are standout examples showcasing perfected modern metal, blasting and heavier than a ton of bricks. “Deathvaluation” is somewhat of the outlier on this record. While Voog has been experimenting with more rock laced riffs, this concept is channeled the most on this track. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the song, it does feel a little out of place compared to the rest of the tunes.

While Decapitated always had good production, Anticult is by far one of their best sounding albums to date. Without being overly saturated, the guitar tone is crunchy as a bag of ruffles, Kick drums that impact like a punch in gut, bass rumbling like the San Andreas fault, and the vocals screaming just above the instrumentation but never overwhelming them. The listener never has to choose which instrument to focus on since the mixing is on point and so goddamn satisfying.

While Anticult is a more accessible affair, it shouldn’t deter longtime fans from checking out the record. Far from it.  While I’d be hard pressed to see most tech-death fans to fully embrace this record, maybe that’s precisely the point. The music found within is seeking to speak to a broader range of metal fans, not just the musicians. Decapitated’s songwriting skills are nearly at its apex on this record, making an album as they see fit and on their own terms. Surely older fans may bemoan the newer sound Decap have been crafting over the past few albums, but it’s obvious that the interest in crafting straight up death metal is no longer their priority. Following a more formulaic song structure doesn’t make the music less extreme than overly techy death metal. It really comes down to good songs, played with passion and conviction. If the result may be more accessible, all the better.  While “musician’s music” is all fine and well, it has more of a niche appeal instead of attempting to appeal to the wider swath of the metal underground. All in all, sometimes a simple riff is all it should take to summon you to the mosh pit and Anticult delivers this in spades.