Seven years. That's how long it's been since Santa Cruz's tech death stalwarts Decrepit Birth graced the metal world with new material. While their first two albums leaned more toward the brutal death end of the spectrum, 2010's Polarity brought more progressive qualities that expanded the band's style well-beyond the constraints of mere brutality. It was a record informed as much by the primitiveness of Suffocation as it was the intellectualism of latter-day Death. Much like the deathcore movement of the 2000s, tech death bands are over-saturating the metal scene at present; however, most of them owe a great deal to Decrepit Birth, and the band's latest Axis Mundi only reinforces their importance to – and continual domination of – technical death metal.
Matt Sotelo and company come out of the gates swinging with opening track "Vortex of Infinity," a masterclass in chunky riffs, technical brutality and human performances. That's one thing that separates Decrepit Birth from their tech death brethren; these guys don't rely on studio wizardry to enhance their performances, and the production on Axis Mundi, executed masterfully by Italian producer Stefano Morabito, brings each of the members' performances to life in an organic way. This is especially true of drummer Samus Paulicelli, who proves he can actually play this stuff in his hilarious YouTube videos. Axis Mundi marks Samus' recording debut with Decripit Birth (though he's been performing with the band since 2010), and his highly technical style of playing matches Sotelo's equally technical guitar parts perfectly.
As far as songwriting goes, Axis Mundi features some of the bands strongest compositions to date. While tech death feels like a huge wank contest more often than not, Decrepit Birth excel at writing good songs and – dare I say – injecting a little bit of soul into their brand of it. While their music is extremely technical and demanding at its core, Decrepit Birth prove that tech death can have actual substance and purpose behind the virtuosity. "Hieroglyphic" trudges along at hyperspeed while managing to build a fair amount of tension between Sotelo's bludgeoning riffs and Bill Robinson's gutturals, accented by a semi-melodic reprise that adds to the song's vicious ambience. Meanwhile, tracks such as "Transcendental Paradox" and "Ascendant" are faithful homages to way the Chuck Schuldiner wrote death metal, perfectly balancing progressive song structures, transcendent melodies and razor's edge riffs.
The only downside to Axis Mundi is a common one among tech death records; namely, very little variation between songs. While the nonstop onslaught of riffs and interesting arrangements ought to satiate any fan of this style of metal, the songs tend to blend together as the record spins along. Not a bad thing per se, but it makes it difficult to remember much of the album. Of course, there's a fair argument to be made that tech death is not really the "get stuck in your head" kind of music, but even death metal is capable of being catchy to some degree. Despite these minor qualms, metalheads will be hard-pressed to find a more immaculately performed tech death record in 2017. While tech death fans are inundated with countless modern bands to choose from, Decrepit Birth remains near the top of the list.