I’m not a happy man right now. I’m sat at my computer, hunched over the keyboard writing a very, very painful review. For a long time, Decrepit Birth have been one of my favourite death metal acts. The way they were always able to blend fretboard destroying guitar antics with headbangable melodies made them one of the most endearing acts extreme metal had to offer, and in my eyes Polarity is one of death metal’s finest albums. That’s why it’s causing me such pain in my chest cavity to say that I simply don’t like Axis Mundi.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly not for lack of trying.
Axis Mundi opens the way any good brutal death metal album should: brutal, destructive blastbeats. As the drums continue their artillery bombardment, the guitars chug away, and I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the inevitable: the moment they spring from the over the top brutality to the legendary technicality and precision playing that’s been ruining the lives of Guitar Center employees for years. Only, it doesn’t happen. Sure, they pick up the pace a bit, and throw in some stop-start riffs, but the finger-fucking acrobatics are noticeably absent. The album’s first track, the band’s opening statement, “Vortex of Infinity… Axis Mundi,” goes by with not a single moment that made me stop and say “Wow, I really fucking suck at guitar” like most other Decrepit Birth tracks do.
The follow-up track, “Spirit Guide” initially shows much more promise. Kicking off with a noodly guitar flourish, it wastes no time in hitting listeners with one of the record’s best, most infectious riffs. It then settles into a fairly typical brutal death metal number, and the faint traces of slam keep me from tuning out entirely. Just when Decrepit Birth are about to lose me, my ears are graced by a wonderfully melodic guitar passage that departs almost as soon as it arrives. After some more blastbeating and fairly box-standard death metal riffing, we get to hear a few seconds of clean guitar before we’re thrust back into the chaotic maelstrom. For some, this may be just what they wanted, but for fans like me who always appreciated the band’s integration of melody into their music, “Spirit Guide” is indicative of a problem plaguing the entire album.
Decrepit Birth have crafted perhaps their heaviest album yet, but in doing so have created their most generic album to date. The technical and melodic elements are still there, but they’ve been reduced to brief moments on otherwise uneventful songs. You can’t simply take out an integral element of your sound and try to make individual segments of your songs more interesting by reintroducing it. That’s not how it works. This album still contains faint elements of the classic DB sound, but if it weren’t for the distinctive vocals, I don’t know if I would be able to identify Axis Mundi as a Decrepit Birth album without already knowing it.
That’s not to say this new, uber-brvtal direction they’ve taken is all bad. There’s some seriously savage stuff on this album. Some nasty death metal leads, and the drum performance is enough to make lesser musicians weep in despair, but these moments only serve as salt to rub into the wound. They’re too far and few in between, and they only make the generic death metal plodding seem worse in comparison. For every moment of scattershot fretboard hopping and spiraling guitar solo wizardry, there are a bucket of riffs that feel insubstantial in comparison.
With Axis Mundi, Decrepit Birth have opted for brutality over memorability, sheer force over guitar theatrics and the album suffers for it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not throwing out my Decrepit Birth albums and tearing up my shirts. I’m still a massive fan of the band, but even I have to admit that this album feels like a misstep. If Decrepit Birth can regroup and bring the riffs next time around, I’ll be the first one to growl their praises. But until then, Polarity is where it’s at, though I must admit that “Orion” is a fucking awesome song.
You can find this album on Nuclear Blast’s webstore.