After a seven-year hiatus how does the band stand up?
Decrepit Birth have always been one of my favorite tech death bands because they still cared about riffs and melody while showing their technical mastery. Diminishing Between Worlds might be in my top twenty death metal albums ever, and that is mainly due to the amazing guitar work throughout the album.
Tech death as a genre can be sometimes a bit tiresome. I think there is a level where the sophistication of the music becomes more important than a coherent listening experience, now some might disagree with me, but there is a limit to how much one can listen to sheer brutality. If the band is always playing at 10/10 speed it quickly becomes the norm, and that can create a certain level of flatness in the music. Oddly, Decrepit Birth’s And Time Begins fits this style of metal a bit more. What made them separate from other bands cut from the same cloth was their use of amazingly beautiful and technical solos.
Axis Mundi in a weird way plays more like a sequel to And Time Begins rather than a follow up to Polarity. If we examine the quartet of albums from the band, we can see two groups—and neither is necessarily bad. I see Axis Mundi a bit closer to And Time Begins II and Polarity as Diminishing Between Worlds II. The band pushes the technical level of the songwriting in each instance. (Fans of Polarity will find a lot to love on this album, but I think the focus is slightly different).
The album pummels from the opening, and doesn’t let up. We are provided with nine tracks of aural madness. To be fair, there are also three cover tracks, but to be honest I more or less ignore covers on every album. My favorite track on the album is Hieroglyphic mainly due the eerie interludes between the darkened riffs. If there is a theme of this album it is darkness and a celebration of cosmic chaos.
So, the solos shred, the drums are brutal, the riffs are great, and the vocals are incredibly divisive. Skimming a couple other reviews, I saw that most people don’t like the vocal style. I will probably annoy just about everyone when I confess my ambivalence towards the vocals. They aren’t the best death metal vocals—sometimes I think they are too mushed and too whispery, but they certainly aren’t the worst. The style adds a certain level of identity to this band. There is an interesting feel between the harsh layered vocals and the highly polished music.
Despite the talent and value of the album something just doesn’t quite jive with me on this album. Looking over my top ten of 2016 I noticed that I have more or less transitioned to black metal exclusively. This is not to say Axis Mundi is a bad album, but it requires a constant and active listener. The album feels less meditative and in many ways less affective due to this. I wager this is a large difference between black and death metal—focuses on transcendence or meditation simply cannot be accomplished in the same way. This is not to say that Decrepit Birth aren’t capable of taking you on a musical journey, but what you want out of the experience will greatly determine how much this album resonates with you (duh…). Ascendant is probably the most powerful track for me due to the more hypnotic nature of the solos.
Another thing that hurts this album is the time between releases. Decrepit Birth hasn’t been sitting around doing nothing for seven years, aggressive touring likely stalled songwriting. Seven years is a long time between releases though, and as musical tastes change the band must cater both to the nostalgic fans and those who wish to see an evolution in songwriting. Decrepit Birth certainly doesn’t fail either group, but I don’t know if they were fully successful, either.
At best, we have a band taking its rightful place as one of the best technical death metal acts out there. At worst, we have great musicians releasing good music. For fans of the genre I think this will be a slam-dunk, and for newcomers this is a solid entry-point that has enough unique flair to separate itself from other groups. The greatest weakness of the album for me is that I don’t foresee it entering a permanent place in my usual listening schedule. 7/10