(Here’s Andy Synn’s review of the new album by Decrepit Birth.)
The ability to make comparisons between bands is a key tool in the modern reviewer’s repertoire.
As long as it isn’t abused and overused, making clear and accurate comparisons between different, but similar/complementary, acts is one of the best ways to put your audience in the right frame of mind prior to listening to a new album, and to attract the attention of potential new listeners (while also giving them some idea of what to expect).
But, although some comparisons are obvious (often painfully so), there are times when you’ll spend hours banging your head against a (metaphorical) brick wall, only to realise that the answer has been right under your nose the whole time.
And that’s exactly what happened to me mid-way through listening to Axis Mundi.
Track after track after track, I found myself wondering “…who does this remind me of…?”, with the answer always seemingly right on the tip of my tongue, but remaining tantalisingly just out of reach.
And then it hit me.
That’s who it reminds me of.
Now I’m not saying there aren’t other references and inferences here and there – the aggressive pop and twang of the bass recalls vintage Cryptopsy, while the swirly, proggy keys which underpin certain tracks will definitely help fill a hole until the new album by The Faceless (finally) appears – but the whole package, the whole damned enchilada, is just instantly, and intimately, recognisable as Decrepit Birth from start to finish.
And, let’s be honest, that’s an enviable position to be in. Many artists go their entire careers without ever truly defining their own sound, their own style, their own identity, to this level.
But that doesn’t mean that Axis Mundi is simply a carbon-copy of its predecessors. Rather it’s simply the next step in the band’s steady evolution, incorporating new mutations and new adaptations, while still retaining recognisable strands of DNA from each of their previous albums.
Neither as flashily melodic or as hyper-clean in sound as Polarity, the nine tracks here find Sotelo and co. bringing back some of the heavier, dirtier vibes of their earlier works to bolster the more “brutal” end of their sound, without sacrificing the more intelligent, more streamlined approach to songwriting which they developed over the subsequent years.
As a result, Axis Mundi is just under forty-two minutes of Technical Death Metal where the emphasis is still very much on the “Death Metal” part of the equation, kicking off with the gruesome sturm und drang of “Vortex of Infinity”, whose mangled riffs and jarring rhythmic shifts immediately remind you that the Decrepit-boys still know how to bring the noise.
Both “Spirit Guide” and “The Sacred Geometry” add a larger dose of speed and melody to the group’s proprietary formula, but balance this with Paulicelli’s intense percussive punishment and Robinson’s always-gruesome gutturals to great effect, while “Hieroglyph” serves as a devastatingly dynamic showcase for the group’s undeniable technical wizardry — not to mention the fleet-fingered talents of new bassist Sean Martinez, whose slinky grooves and evocative counter-melodies are absolutely one of the highlights of the album.
With the chunky churn and chug of “Transcendental Paradox” and the bruising, blast-injected “Mirror of Humanity”, the band lean in hard towards the heavier, more decidedly deathly side of things, while still making time here and there for an unexpectedly proggy diversion or injection of otherworldly melody, after which the nimble fretwork and explosive drumming of “Ascendant”, serves to give both Sotello and Martinez ample room to show off their impressive instrumental abilities.
On penultimate punisher “Epigenetic Triplicity” the quartet seem as though they were unsure whether they wanted to melt your brain by overloading it with dizzyingly technical riffage, or grind down your bones through the application of pure sonic heaviness… and so decided to do both at the same time… thus ensuring that your mind and your meat should be nicely tenderised by the time that “Embryogenesis”, the album’s somewhat epic, although slightly anticlimactic, instrumental finale, swoops in to wrap things up.
Have no doubt about it, Decrepit Birth are still one of the very best in the Technical Death Metal game – heck, at this point they’re probably one of the best bands in Death Metal, regardless of style or sub-genre – and the seven-year gap between albums has done nothing to dull their fire or blunt their edge.
And while the jury’s still out as to whether Axis Mundi is the band’s best album, I can say with confidence that it’s easily top four…
July 21 (Nuclear Blast, Agonia Records)