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Well, the last thing you can accuse Santa Cruz, California act Decrepit Birth of is being productive and prolific in their recorded output. In the 7 years, an eternity in death metal terms, since “Polarity” the band has transformed and re-emerged in a different constellation once again. Not only have they recruited two new members; they also inked a contract with Agonia Records for European territories and remain with Nuclear Blast for their native North America. Lest we forget it has been almost a decade since the seminal “Diminishing Between Worlds” surprised the world with its elegant fusion of Chuck Schuldiner-esque melodies, extensive lead guitar sections and percussive density redolent of early Deeds Of Flesh and the Californian death metal sound at large. On “Axis Mundi” Decrepit Birth has a lot to prove. Whether or not “Axis Mundi” lives up your expectations depends exactly on what you to come, or look, to Decrepit Birth for in the first place…

“Axis Mundi” is more of a continuation than a true progression from past material. It’s a solid, if not exactly riveting, record that recombines the primal pummeling of Decrepit Birth’s not-too-distant past with its more recent sensible, melodic inclinations. Whether or not that proposition is appealling is entirely up to one’s personal preference, but for this scribe it is a rousing success as it mixes the best aspects of the first two albums into readily accessible, densely structured songs with recognizable melodic hooks and Matt Sotelo’s now patented esoteric soloing. Joining founding members Sotelo (lead guitar) and Bill Robinson (vocals) on “Axis Mundi” is the new rhythm section of Sean Martinez (bass guitar) and Samus Paulicelli (drums). Frontman Bill Robinson has always been, and continues to be, the weak link in Decrepit Birth. His vocals have never been particularly compelling and “Axis Mundi” changes little in that regard. Robinson’s vocals are serviceable enough in that they do exactly what is expected of them, but little else beyond covering those basics. They have never been interesting enough to warrant any attention on their own, and “Axis Mundi” doesn’t rock the status-quo by making him the subject of different, or slightly more ambitious, vocal lines. Samus Paulicelli (whose parents probably really liked the Metroid video game franchise) is a more than suitable replacement for KC Howard and session drummer Tim Yeung.

In their defense, at least Decrepit Birth has shown exponential growth in their lyrics since the days of “…And Time Begins”. “Axis Mundi”, as a concept, is found in several belief systems and philosophies and is understood as the center of the world, or the connection between Heaven and Earth. ‘Spirit Guide’ is about Aztlán, the ancestral home of the Aztec peoples and their migration from Aztlan to central Mexico. It also references Sipapu, a Hopi word for the hole through which the "First Peoples" of the Earth and their ancient ancestors first emerged to enter the present world. ‘The Sacred Geometry’ concerns the belief that there are symbolic and sacred meanings to certain geometric shapes and certain geometric proportions, and that a god is the geometer of the world. It has its roots in the study of nature, and the mathematical principles found therein. Sacred geometry can be found in ancient Egyptian, Indian, Greek and Roman structures. ‘Hieroglypic’ details, among other things, the Bindu, or the point at which creation begins and may become unity, in Hinduism. ‘Transcendental Paradox’ is about the Sri Yantra, a mystical diagram that consists of nine interlocking triangles associated with the Shri Vidya school of Hindu tantra. Like their German brethren in Obscura, the Californians understand that death metal can be meaningful on the lyrical front.

‘Vortex Of Infinity – Axis Mundi’ and ‘Spirit Guide’ are at least vocally more ambitious with their sparse narration next to Robinson’s usual growls. Not that Decrepit Birth is venturing into Obscura or “Focus” era Cynic territory anytime soon. The choice of cover songs on the vinyl edition offer up at least one surprise. While one would typically expect Decrepit Birth to cover Death’s ‘Cosmic Sea’ instead they opted for the psychedelic ‘Orion’ from Metallica’s “…And Justice For All” instead, as well as ‘Desperate Cry’ from Sepultura’s “Arise” and ‘Infecting the Crypts’ from Suffocation. The Suffocation cover doesn’t exactly surprise as Robinson has acted as their stand-in frontman in 2012 and Paulicelli already covered the track on his YouTube channel in 2016. The Sepultura cover song proves that Max Cavalera’s gruff barks remain unsurpassed and that Robinson, in all ways his superior, isn’t able to match, let alone improve on, them. It’s testament to the fact that the 1991 Sepultura opus is truly a timeless effort in extreme death/thrash metal mastery. Even two decades later the songwriting and compositions of “Arise” have yet to be surpassed. “Under a pale grey sky, we shall arise…” Indeed. “Axis Mundi” may not be Decrepit Birth’s “Arise” but at least it’s clear they are doing a concerted effort to diversify.

“And Time Begins” was practically an early Deeds Of Flesh record, and about the only interesting thing about it was the stellar Dan Seagrave artwork. “Diminishing Between Worlds” was where Matt Sotelo and his friends finally decided to write actual songs and “Polarity” pushed them into more melodic territory. “Axis Mundi” will be polarizing in the sense that it merges the two directions into one. In terms of intensity it leans closer towards “…And Time Begins”. Not that that is bad. “And Time Begins” was frequently, if not entirely, an undirected projectile of pummeling ferocity. “Diminishing Between Worlds” steered that aggression into recognizable songs with the added bonus of Schuldiner-esque guitar soloing. “Axis Mundi” takes the aggression of the former and the well-developed song constructions of the latter, and then adds to both for extra spice. On “Axis Mundi” Decrepit Birth looks towards its past, present, and future. As such it’s a solid return for them, a band that has probably evolved more than some of its more popular brethren. At least they are significantly more traditionally inspired than, say, an Inherit Disease but Decrepit Birth is the farthest from bands as Insentient and Italian combo Resumed, both of whom take the Death influence beyond mere guitar leads. Why exactly was it again that Leslie Medina (Insentient) wasn't offered a guest lead guitar slot?

“Axis Mundi” will probably be a disappointment to the most die-hard of Decrepit Birth fans. Others might be entirely indifferent to it. The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle. It is a solid return for a band that has shown not to be afraid to evolve on all fronts. Its basis is sturdy and traditional death metal and since “Diminishing Between Worlds” Decrepit Birth has, to its credit, allowed the integration of 90s genre conventions into its decidedly millennial and highly technical approach. “Axis Mundi” pushes those conventions farther than ever before – and its the first Decrepit Birth effort that is enjoyable from front to back. Decrepit Birth has always had a penchant to overcompensate and “Axis Mundi” is no different. There are enough blasts and esoteric guitar leads to satiate anybody’s craving. More importantly, though, is that this time Sotelo and his comrades concentrated on writing consistently strong songs. There was a time not all that long ago when Decrepit Birth was but a meager Deeds Of Flesh clone. Thankfully in more recent years they have started to live up to their innate potential.



After having set the world afire with its brash NWOBHM inspired debut, two records of cleverly written thrash metal, and a brief exercise into more technical realms San Francisco metal act Metallica decided to go into the exact opposite direction. It’s one of the most about face turns in the annals of the genre, and one with far reaching consequences that still haunt the band’s now extended discography. The 1990s were a difficult time for metal with the rising popularity of the Seattle grunge sound all over America, and the Britpop movement – both fueled by non-stop airplay on MTV. Everybody was struggling, even the relatively successful Metallica. Instead of staying true to their roots and humble beginnings, San Francisco’s brightest thrash practitioners decided to slow down, let the groove take over and aim for the radio play they so long desired. “Metallica” was a resounding commercial and critical success, and paved the way for Metallica’s extended foray into heavy rock and remains their most popular, and populist, release to date. It is here that the road ends, and that one of San Francisco’s most promising thrash metal acts became bloated, complacent and, well, lazy.


The 1991 self-titled is everything that “…And Justice For All” wasn’t, and not for the better. Having tired of playing long-winding songs with dozen of riffs each the Hetfield-Ulrich axis decided to do something radically different for this session. Hiring noted arena rock producer Bob Rock is both a blessing and a curse. For the first time somebody was able to give the band a meatier, beefier and crunchy sound that sounded smooth but retained the band’s signature heaviness. Compromises were made in the songwriting department by adopting a much slower overall tempo, a fewer amount of riffs per song, and more introspective lyrics and vocals. In comparison to the albums that came before much more time was spent on vocal production, and the recording is worth every penny they end up investing in the process because “Metallica” sounds absolutely phenomenal in its depth, texture and range – but what it wins in sheen and pristine production values can never complement the severe lack of balls on all fronts.

Granted the pacing of this record is flawless. The album starts off with the big single ‘Enter Sandman’ to get the adrenaline flowing. The song is a heavy rock imitation of the violent album openers of yesteryear, and to have it be followed up by the groovy and crunchy ‘Sad But True’ is a masterstroke. After the first two songs the pattern is repeated a few more times, but instead of a groovy song it was decided to put in a power ballad (‘The Unforgiven’) or an actual full-blown acoustic cut (‘Nothing Else Matters’). The five singles that were released for the album speak volumes of where the band’s heart was at at the time. It retains the spirit of the band’s classic thrash era, yet oversimplifies it and rebrands it into an AOR format that appeals to both impressionable youngsters and out-of-touch adults who’d cling at anything to appear cool. It goes without saying that “Metallica” is a confused record that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Existing in two separate plains and serving two different masters simultaneously is bound to bring trouble for those involved, and “Metallica” is sterling example of that.

Despite its bravado and expensive production it fails in one major but very important point: audience satisfaction. At this point Metallica was an established brand in the global metal scene, but not in the mainstream. After years of struggling, toiling away in the margin and playing hundreds of shows the band took a gamble for the mainstream.  The opening seconds of ‘Enter Sandman’ set the tone for the rest of the album (and Metallica’s career from that point onward), the song sounds heavy upon initial exposure, but upon closer inspection it shows a number of important changes. For starters, the clean opening section isn’t so much to set the mood, but to get the listener humming along, and the riffing that follows is much more of a heavy rock strain than it is of any sort of metal, let alone the thrash metal that these men perfected in the past. Hetfield’s vocals are more emotive, and are leaps and bounds better compared to any of his past work, especially the vocally weak “…And Justice For All”. His vocals aren’t so much pissed off and aggressive sounding like they were in the past, but thoughtful and easy on the ears. Newsted’s bass guitar is absolutely and positively massive sounding with a deep, earthy tone that is both incredibly heavy yet surprisingly clear. It is unfortunate that the material present does it no justice. Ulrich, much on par with Hetfield and Hammett, has simplified his playing to fit the more rock-oriented writing of the album. Just like Hammett he will occasionally muster an interesting fill or progression, but on the whole the drums fulfill no other purpose than to keep the time and provide a beat.

“Metallica” for the most part is an album of firsts and lasts. This is the last album to retain a minimum of the band’s thrash metal past, and some of the faster songs actually display this in part. The original spirit of the band was still intact, even though this would be the last album to have the guys with long hair. It is the first to fully capitalize on the influence of noted arena rock producer Bob Rock, and his creative mingling led the Hetfield-Ulrich axis to abandon integrity and true artistry for a shot at mainstream popularity, and the lure of money at the meager price of their very soul. Granted Metallica was fairly popular within its niche before the conception of this album, but they were never mainstream – and the radio wasn’t playing any of their songs. With this “black album” all of that changed. Simplicity was the name of the game, and apparently Rock must have convinced Metallica to lighten up. Traces of the band’s thrash metal past appear sporadically through each of the cuts, and each song has one or two moments where that can be heard. For the majority of the album however it sounds like a poorly conceived transformation into something its creators weren’t familiar enough with to begin with. Hetfield was known for his interest in heavy rock genres, and the cooperation with Bob Rock probably amplified that desire to join his inspirations.

‘Enter Sandman’ has all the traces of the violent album opener, but all rough edges have been sanded off for maximum impact. It’s a sing along heavy rock song with a lullaby midsection before the big finale. ‘Sad But True’ is a typical Metallica slow burning thrash song that was transformed into a stomping arena rock song. It is driven forward by a truly monstrous sounding main riff, along with its bare-bones structure, the shout-along verses and a surprising lyrical conclusion. ‘The Unforgiven’ was a power ballad in the old Metallica tradition, but it was lobotomized to appeal to a mainstream audience. ‘Wherever I May Roam’ combines both elements of ‘Enter Sandman’ and ‘Sad But True’ in another midtempo heavy rocker with introspective lyrics about being on the road. ‘Nothing Else Matters’ is more or less a continuation of the old instrumentals the band used to do, but now set to acoustics in an easily digestable pop format making it readily available for mass airplay. The gamble paid off, and the album became a critical and financial success to say the least. To this day it is still the most readily available in brick-and-mortar record stores, and the one album mainstream pop fans even recognize.

Along with the simplification of the band’s style the artwork went for an entire black canvas. The band’s logo is angled in the left upper corner, while a coiled snake (derived from the Gadsden flag) sits in the right bottom corner, both appearing in a shade of grey. This was part of the band’s vision of “keeping it simple”, and led to the album being called “the black album” for obvious reasons. For these reasons band and fans alike made connections to the Spinal Tap album “Smell the Glove”. It was later stated that the band went through a period of insecurity as musicians and songwriters, which led to pushing themselves “too far” (according to their own statements) with albums as “Master Of Puppets” and “…And Justice For All”. The supposed antidote to that was this album, which did the same thing but with less. Often times less is more, but sometimes less is less. In the case of this album, it is the latter. “Metallica” is a decent record in the one goal it sets for itself, but other than that it is forgettable drab from a once mighty band that didn’t struggle to appease anybody but itself. “Metallica” is clean-cut heavy rock with only the slightest glimmer of the band’s breakneck thrash metal past. Despite the well-documented and ongoing conflict the Hetfield-Ulrich axis had with their new producer Bob Rock, his influence has nevertheless thoroughly invaded this record. It is more puzzling that the band continued to work with him for next decade and a half.

From the troublesome production of the infamous self-titled “Black Album” onward the band would lose itself in gargantuan writing, recording - and touring campaigns. The result of all this procrastination was the release of albums within a 5-year timespan, often to mediocre or terrible results. The most energetic and hungry band in the world would become the most popular thing on earth, and with mainstream acceptance in popular culture now finally a real thing – the band became complacent and satisfied with itself. The 1991 self-titled, the record that broke Metallica to the world at large, at least had a pale shadow of what the band once was. If you look beyond the million-dollar production job, the mind-numbing crowd pandering with the ballads and the band pushing to be a rock band rather than a metal one, you actually can see the outlines of how all these songs were virtually potent thrash metal anthems at one, now long distant point. Sadly, these songs had their teeth pulled and are drowning in repetitious pop/rock structures as to finally hit the charts, which they did. Metallica’s self-titled record is their most known, and deeply embedded culturally – it is the final breath of a once promising and highly revered thrash metal act that was now losing its identity. Despite all that “Metallica” remains a highly enjoyable, thoroughly divisive and often questionable entry into the band’s catalogue, yet one that in retrospect isn’t all that bad.