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Ah, Dimmu Borgir. Nuclear Blast’s trusty cashcow and probably the most vapid, inconsequential and populist Norwegian metal act to somehow stumble into a career. So here we are with the second post-ICS Vortex/Mustis effort and the first sign of life from Dimmu Borgir after an 8-year hiatus from the recording studio. “Interdimensional Summit” is their latest exercise in tedium and it cements the notion that their best and brightest days are now well behind them. “Interdimensional Summit” is the scion of the worst aspects from “Abrahabadra” and “Death Cult Armageddon” and probably the lowest the Norwegians have yet sunk. It’s easily the worst this band has yet expelled from its creative colon and a new low in a canon containing treacherously few peaks to begin with.

For the lack of a better descriptor “Interdimensional Summit” sounds like a slightly more muscular Nightwish or Therion (circa “Vovin”) without the sense of grandeur. More troubling is that Dimmu Borgir still insists on chugging (or writing any substantial riffs for that matter) like it’s 1994. “Interdimensional Summit” is power metal in all but name. This is the most enthrone darkness triumphant that Dimmu Borgir has yet sounded. It makes you pine for the simpler days of the neither-here-nor-there populist groove/thrash of “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant”, the keyboard-dominant excursions into the “Spiritual Black Dimensions” or even the incoherent semi-industrial debacle known as “Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia” where Dimmu Borgir badly aped Fear Factory. Therion did what Dimmu Borgir does in 2018 far better in 1998. “Vovin” at least had the decency to be tolerable in its operatics and reliance on choirs. “Interdimensional Summit” is as aimless, purposeless, and portentously pompous as Dimmu Borgir has ever been.

Whether it’s the marching tempo, the orchestral pomp and the heavy reliance on choirs to carry the title song – this is Dimmu Borgir in all of its defective glory. “Interdimensional Summit” trudges and chugs, evidently without any apparent direction or trajectory in mind, with all the repetitive riffing and vocal effects we have come to expect from this band. It is immaculately produced, certainly. Too smooth and glossy for its own good, perhaps. Daray, the Polish import and probably the best drummer this band had the good fortune to recruit, is reduced to keeping time. Geir Bratland has officially replaced Mustis and he’s the least offensive part of the new membership. “Interdimensional Summit” more than anything else, prior or since, so perfectly encapsulates Shakespeare’s famous quote from Macbeth: “It is a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Dimmu Borgir could very well be mistaken for any interchangeable Finnish symfo death/power metal band at this point. It’s crass commercialism at its most vile.

If anything it’s conclusive proof that Dimmu Borgir is impervious to any kind of growth or evolution. It’s the culmination of every wrongheaded implication that “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant” hinted at. The complete dearth of any meaningful riffs, the standard rock drumming and Shagrath’s tired vocal performance herald yet another transformation for the band. The post-ICS Vortex/Mustis years will remember Dimmu Borgir as the band making their identity crisis their entire raison d'être. The band remains as polarizing as they’ve ever been and, no doubt, a good portion of their undiscerning fanbase will eat this up without question. Dimmu Borgir never was, is, or will be, black metal in any capacity it is traditionally understood. Dimmu Borgir – in case their product in the last twenty years wasn’t enough of an indication – is populist swill for the masses: low on substance, bereft of both intelligence and integrity and blatantly commercialized and commoditized as to appeal to a broad audience as possible. All the signs have been pointing at this for over a decade now. The masks have fallen from The Kings Of the Carnival Creation – and the sight, for those not in the know, is grotesque and deformed.

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.