At this point in 2017, a year already subject to a burgeoning tornado of death metal souls, the genre is hardly in need of a qualitative shot in the arm. Regardless, after seven years in the ether, none other than Decrepit Birth have descended to lend their technical muscle to the array of perennial brutalities, with fourth album Axis Mundi and a semi-reconstructed line up. With a new core comes a new horizon, and this latest record plumps for some subtle alterations when compared with its Schuldiner-infused brethren, offering something of an atavistic throwback to uglier and arguably more dangerous incarnations. A band this proficient is, I suspect, barely capable of producing anything definitively poor, so the real question here is less: is it any good? but rather: just how good is it?

The answer, unsurprisingly, is: pretty damn good. The slight differences, particularly in comparison to previous record, Polarity, are immediately noticeable. Axis Mundi puts a lot of stock in its rhythm section; guitarist Matt Sotelo’s deconstructed and otherworldly riff/solo tandem has always been the focal point of the band, slathering them with a melodic fluidity that often gave the material a certain mercurial nature. Now instead, is a much denser delivery that co-opts the melodicism and enforces the lofty cosmic album concept with bloody knuckles as well as presence of mind. “Vortex of Infinity” opens the album with one jagged staccato riff after another and offers an early glimpse into the record’s brutish nature. Newcomers, drummer Sam Paulicelli and bassist Sean Martinez, deftly make themselves known – the latter’s sentient bass lines are quick to pry open any available auditory space, deeply burying themselves in the album’s DNA.

Offering something of a transition, “Spirit Guide” is an early point of comparison when considering the depth the band are capable of in the face of such stolid heaviness. Somehow contemplative in its proficiency, the track sees immaculately layered keys meet progressive leads for a culmination of epic riff-scapes. It’s a first look at how well-developed the album is, a trend that continues into “Hieroglyphic,” monstrous in its technicality and lashed ever-onward by the metallic tongue of Martinez’s exhaustive bass. Bill Robinson puts in his usual solid performance of low throat-dwelling growls, but it’s here that I come to my first real complaint. Axis Mundi is perhaps the first of the band’s records that doesn’t singularly feel like a showcase for Sotelo’s enviable guitar slinging, so it’s disappointing that, on what is arguably his most open platform, Robinson misses his opportunity to etch his own unique signature into the material. While his vocals don’t diminish the music in any way, they also fail to elevate it – compounded by some odd production choices that sees his gutturals neutered by an unfortunate muffling effect. With much of their back-catalog being just as enjoyable were it instrumental – the churning riff-work here would have been a prime moment for him to truly feature.

With a production meant to highlight the record’s heft, Axis Mundi sounds unapologetically heavy and distinctly different to the polish and shine of Polarity. Although crashing in at continent sinking DR 3, it’s clear that the production choice is meant to accent the record’s emphasis on its death metal credentials, to which it certainly succeeds. Sam Paulicelli’s surgically precise drumming propels the lacerating velocity of “Ascendant” before Sotelo slips into another gravity-defying solo, eventually paving the way for the tumultuous current of bass lines that underpins penultimate track, “Epigenetic Triplicity.” This is surely one of the band’s heaviest cuts replete with overwhelming technicality designed only, and successfully, to savage your very being. It’s a last and thorough pummeling before the record’s cinematic finale, the instrumental “Embryogenesis,” which returns to the themes explored in “Spirit Guide” with larger than life orchestrations and sweeping guitar lines that bring the record to a grandiose end.

Decrepit Birth are, at this point, a death metal institution, and one who enjoys the enviable position of having absolutely nothing to prove. Axis Mundi is certainly no exception to the rule and another crucial inclusion into an already potent discography. Although only time will tell how much I reach for this album over its predecessor, I can assure that a seven-year absence has done nothing to dull the thirsty edge the band have spent their entire career honing. Although not exactly a breath of new life for a veteran band, Axis Mundi is no last gasp, either; it’s a vital draught of air from an assured machine, whose decrepit birth has since wrought bones of iron.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 3 | Format Reviewed: 268 kbps mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast
Websites: decrepitbirth.net | facebook.com/decrepitbirth
Releases Worldwide: July 21st, 2017

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  • Jaime VG

    I´m really enjoying this album. Decrepit Birth´s albums even though they belong to the same genre, they sound nothing alike to my ears. This one being the most brutal and less technical in my opinion. It is true that the vocals sound a little bit weird, like as if they were quadrupled and muffled.

    The album cover is awesome and the DMT inspired yrics are interesting.

  • ssorg

    Joining the elite “Rating > DR” club. Can we get a tag for that?

    • Malhorne

      It feels so troublesome when an album seems to be good and is produced like this.. you always wonder how great could it be with some room to breath

    • lagerbottoms

      Do you have some other examples for albums with rating > DR?

      • ssorg

        Ulcerate got close… the 5 DR seems generous (the 4.5 rating is well deserved)

        • lagerbottoms

          Which album?
          Haven’t listened to Shrines yet, because the production kills me. And I thought Shrines had a 4

          • ssorg

            Yeah Shrines has a DR of 5, but sounds much much worse — not sure about the DR on earlier albums. I think the music is incredible — there really is no band quite like Ulcerate. I don’t listen to it as much as I would like because it sounds so flat.

          • lagerbottoms

            Earlier Ulcerate albums all have a DR of 5, except for Vermis having 6, but it’s a little pushed because Odium has 8 and Fall To Opprobrium has 9, so the songs that really count again have 5 :D
            (Coming Of Genocide has 7 but it’s just an EP with 15 minutes)

            Shrines is definitely the most brickwalled.
            Destroyers Of All in my opinion balances the best with sound and kinda accessibility :D

      • Mark Z

        My review of the last Mithras album, 4.5/5 with a DR of 4

        • lagerbottoms

          Well that was basically a DR3, ignoring the interlude :D

          Or a 9 with the HD version. Either way it surely deserved the 4.5
          Great album!

  • HairyToeKnuckles

    I thoroughly enjoy the advanced technicality in these amazing musicians’ performances, but damn if that grunting, growly, mush-mouthed “singer” doesn’t almost completely dismantle it. Honestly, whats the point of writing lyrics if you’re going to stuff your mouth with walnuts and grunt them?

    I will continue to enjoy this album, I just wanted to complain. Thanks.

    Great review as always.

    • welyyt

      It’s weird, the vocals aren’t this prominent in their earlier stuff, and it seems like there are three tracks at the same time, almost as if he wanted to do growl harmonies with himself.

    • sir_c

      Cookie Monster is upset someone left the tin open all day and he got vocal about it

    • Tom Hardy

      Have you heard a lot of Deathmetal out there mate?

      • HairyToeKnuckles

        I am 42-years-old so, yeah, I’ve heard a bit of death metal throughout my travels. What I’m saying is that I prefer death metal when you can understand what they’re saying. Death metal does not have to be grunts, growls, and pig noises. If you have something to say in your lyrics, then have others able to understand–without having to look up the lyrics.

        • lagerbottoms

          It makes a lot of sense actually. I mostly agree, except that I love bands like Wormed and Artificial Brain, who are even worse offenders considering enunciation, but at least the vocals are more dynamic

          • HairyToeKnuckles

            Wormed pisses me off: I LOVE their music, but the sound of the dude wheezing like an asthmatic kills it for me. I still listen to it, though.

            I actually listen to and love A LOT of death metal with indecipherable lyrics. It’s just nice when I can listen and understand the lyrics without a lyrics sheet/lyrics video.

            Thank for the reply.

          • lagerbottoms

            That’s interesting :D I love their vocalist, because it makes their whole music sound that much more alien. Same goes for Artificial Brain …

            But I also prefer bands like Beyond Creation, Spawn Of Possession, Mithras, Venenum, Replacire or Alkaloid where the lyrics are at least somewhat decipherable

          • HairyToeKnuckles

            I LOVE every single band you listed. You, sir, have great taste. I also love that you agree with me. Heh

        • Tom Hardy

          Aye and I’ll raise my glass of rye to you, dear sir. Also understand that the music you’re listening to isn’t intended to be pretty. Deathmetal is supposed to be ugly sounding, or rather the majority of it anyway. Respect your opinion and taste, everyone has their own. You are saluted.

          • HairyToeKnuckles

            Ahhh rye. Now that opened a whole new can of worms. I just so happen to be a connoisseur of whiskey. heh What rye were you drinking?

    • lagerbottoms

      Not all cookie monsters can be as articulate as Frank Mullen

    • Arn

      I really like them :)

      The way they are kind of blurry and don’t take too much place in the mix allows the instrumental to breath more

  • Iain Gleasure

    Does Ferrous always get to the promo bin first? How does he consistently get at least good albums? Where is the hazing, the pain, the brimstone?

    • He pays big money for promo favoritism.

      • Tom Busler

        Promola? Payolmo?

    • Ferrous Beuller

      You don’t haze me; I haze you!

  • My Doppelganger

    This album has appeased my disappointment in the new Suffocation. (Not that the new Suffocation is ALL bad, just a little lacking for what I was hoping for.)

  • Grimstrider

    No sarcasm for once: This album is AMAZING. Stop reading and go buy it.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    DR3… I’ll check it out but I’m thinking I’ll pass and spare my eardrums. There’s too much good metal out to reward vicious mastering.

    • Morbidly Obese Angel

      Taking the production snobbery to dazzling new heights

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        yeah why not

        • h_f_m

          I’d try listening once first.

          • Carlos Marrickvillian

            Thats what I said… But so many options and such little time…

    • I got the album and had listened a bunch before checking out the dr score…it’s surprisingly pleasant for a wall o bricks. Like, the Virvum-Illuminance album is squished to a DR4 (from what Metal-Fi told me) but still sounds awesome, this is almost the same feel to me. They can sometimes get away with the squish if it’s mixed for it in advance and I think that’s what happened.

  • Mollusc

    Riffs.

  • basstard

    Not sure how I feel about DB anymore. I’m pretty familiar with their last 2 albums and when I saw them live I couldn’t make out shit..

    So now they dropped the latter era Schuldiner-isms? The singer is the weak link as well…

  • Kapitein Bochelbaard

    Call it snobbery until the cows come home, but the mastering really bothers me on repeat listens. At first this album nicely filled up some of the gaps left by the new Suffocation, but I’ll be damned if I can get through it in one sitting on headphones. DR3 is just beyond the pale, and that’s quite a bummer because musically this kicks most techdeath bands’ collective buttocks. Can’t shake the impression that the mastering has something to do with squashing the vocals too. The mixing saves a lot, but shiiiiit.

    Somebody call Dave-Fi for a new edition of Worst Sounding Albums…

  • IamDBR

    It’s been said before but damn, those vocals are hard to get past. The rest is solid as usual, though I do prefer their more proggy melodic material.

  • ElephantsMarching

    I like this. I wasn’t expecting a DR of 3, but after getting to the covers after the closer material, my ears told me to check out what the DR actually was. I thought it sounded pretty good for a WallO’. I’ll listen again. Just not immediately after finishing a first listen through.

  • DeadHead

    Between this and Dying Fetus I am pretty damn happy. Its like Christmas all year this year.

  • Nathan Lockhart

    It sounds like this reviewer hasn’t even listened to their first album, “and time begins.”