Decrepit Birth Biography (2017)
By Chris Dick
THE QUICKENING OF TIME
For the better part of their 16-year existence, California-based death metallers Decrepit Birth haven’t followed the rules. From debut album, 2003’s …And Time Begins, to new album, Axis Mundi, they’ve shuffled the tried and true tenets of death metal into something defiantly other. Certainly, the Surf City denizens have written and continue to write—check out the pit-destroying ‘Transcendental Paradox’ off Axis Mundi—brutally brutal music, but after years of purveying labyrinthine riffs and blasts at light-suffering speeds, they’ve transcended, they’ve transformed, they’ve gone beyond. Decrepit Birth in 2017 aren’t entirely the same band that unfurled …And Time Begins in their twentysomethings.
“We’ve gone through an evolution throughout the years,” says founding member and primary songwriter Matt Sotelo. “The last couple of albums we had, Diminishing Between Worlds and Polarity, were more progressive death metal. They were different from …And Time Begins, which is a different genre of death metal. It’s more brutal. I’m the type of guy who likes to experiment. …And Time Begins has no solos. It’s all really fast palm-muted riffs. The other albums breathed more with the guitars. I let chords ring out on Diminishing Between Worlds and Polarity. Axis Mundi is combination of all the stuff I’m into. I like it a lot right now. It’s more melodic. The riffs repeat intentionally. I want to have fun with these songs.”
For those paying attention, seven long years separate Polarity from Axis Mundi. The absence would kill the fan velocity of most bands. But not Decrepit Birth. Even after 2014’s The Summer Slaughter Tour—the last time the West Coasters were on tour—the group’s legion of freaks have stayed true to their death metal masters, pleading and pining with regularity on social media for new technically-proficient savagery. That wait will soon be over with Axis Mundi, but what were Decrepit Birth up to while the world turned and burned?
“We did tours up to 2014,” Sotelo remembers. “That’s four years of tours [since the release of Polarity]. We were doing maybe two or three tours a year. Also, since Polarity, I’ve been writing new music. I’d work on new music and then scrap it. I’d change things around. So, it took a little while. I also had a son shortly after Polarity came out. I was really busy with a newborn baby. So, it wasn’t really until 2014 that I started to buckle down to write new music.”
ESSENCE OF CREATION
Written in Sotelo’s kitchen or at his computer desk—a fairly prosaic picture compared to the next-level intensity upon which Axis Mundi pivots—the majority of Decrepit Birth’s new, trail-blazing music originally had a different shape and color. Sotelo eventually axed songs he labeled “crazy and wild” for a more economical approach. Relatively speaking. He was more into the feel of the riff than expanding upon the multitude of multitudes he normally emits like a mad scientist with eight arms.
“The first song I finished was ‘Hieroglyphic,’” recalls Sotelo. “I will say ‘Hieroglyphic’ is a good representation of this album. It’s got a little bit of everything in it. It shows what we’re about right now. The last song I wrote was the last song on the album, an instrumental called ‘Embryogenesis.’ I used a 7-string guitar on it, but not in the way that a lot of people use 7-string guitars. It’s not percussive. It’s layered. See, I like to experiment. I’m glad I got to try something that wasn’t standard death metal. I’m not trying to put down bands or fans, but I like songs that have weird things going on, like samples or MIDI parts.”
Sotelo cites the strength of songs like opener ‘Vortex of Infinity - Axis Mundi’, ‘Hieroglyphic’, ‘Mirror of Humanity’, and ‘Epigenetic Triplicity’ on Decrepit Birth’s reconfigured lineup. Drummer Samus Paulicelli and bassist Sean Martinez aren’t exactly new to the group—both have acclimated nicely over the last few years—but they’ve pushed Decrepit Birth, compositionally and musically, up a few notches. Axis Mundi wouldn’t have been the same without their involvement.
“They’re two very talented musicians,” Sotelo beams. “I’m lucky to have them working with me. Both of them bring a lot. Sean probably is the best bass player—technically—we’ve had in the band. His bass lines and the way he plays bass are amazing. If you listen closely, he’s doing a lot of cool lines. As for Samus, he has his drumming to offer, which is huge. There’s very little he can’t do. He’s amazing. But he also contributed [to the songwriting process]. He’s a good songwriter, an amazing all-around musician. He wanted to help me write the songs. Not the riffs, but help arrange the songs. He wanted to create something different from what I came up with. So, I let him. I decided to have Samus help us out. He’s got the skill. It’s a lot of good stuff he contributed to the record.”
While most of Decrepit Birth’s peers aim lyrically and conceptually for the jugular—blood and guts are a never-ending font of inspiration—the Golden Staters have opted for the mystical and the arcane. Chief lyric writer and frontman Bill Robinson gets many of his ideas from literature and imbibing in mind-altering substances. For Axis Mundi, Robinson centered the lyrics on a theme. From opener ‘Vortex of Infinity - Axis Mundi’ through ‘Epigenetic Triplicity’ he’s taking the listener on a synodic journey, where portals to inner and outer spaces are opened for the intrepid.
“I’m going to be honest here,” says Sotelo. “Bill is responsible for all the lyrics and the concept. I know axis mundi is the center of the world. The world energy center. Energies of the heavens coming down to the Earth. A portal. So, there’s a theme. They’re connected. We’re not the typical lyric writers in death metal. Bill’s lyrics are almost psychedelic. Weird and esoteric. He’s out there. They’re not happy. They’re not hippie shit. They’re fringe, on the edge. They’re dark. And I like it that way! For this album, it’s an all Bill thing. Even the cover.”
CONCEPTING THE ERA
Recorded at three different studios over the course of a year, Axis Mundi sounds incredible. The clarity, the power, the musicianship, and the brutality aren’t vying for attention. They’re in absolute harmony. The guitars—tracked by Sotelo at his home studio—are razor sharp yet spine-snappingly heavy. The drums—tracked by Ryan Forsyth at Private Ear Studios in Winnipeg, Canada—are genre-defining, recalling what Sean Reinert, Gene Hoglan, and Steve Flynn did for Death and Atheist, respectively. And the bass— tracked by Sean, also at his home studio—has a great deep-end against the ceaselessly wicked rhythms. Tracks like ‘Hieroglyphic’, ‘Spirit Guide’, and ‘The Sacred Geometry’ wouldn’t have crushed skulls and blown minds if it wasn’t for the accomplished mixing and mastering of Stefano Morabito at 16th Cellar Studios.
“I spent a lot of time recording at my own leisure at my own house,” recalls Sotelo. “I have my own recording equipment. We did go out to a professional studio in 2015 to record the drums. We were there for about a week. I took those drums home and started to record my guitars. That took about four to five months. The reason being I had a lot going on personally. I didn’t have a lot of time to knock out the whole album. Plus, I was experimenting with new things while tracking. That’s just how I do it. We can’t do what normal bands do. We’re so spread out. Sean lives in New York, I live in California, and Samus lives in Winnipeg. That’s a big triangle. It’s hard to get together to play music. It’s a bit unfortunate, but that’s how it is. That means we’re writing songs all the way up to and including tracking. I will say this: recording is a lot cheaper and it’s a lot less pressure.”
With remarkable songs—check out ‘Hieroglyphic’—, an exceptional production, and high concept lyrics, Decrepit Birth will re-shape death metal on Axis Mundi. They’re blasting the doors of convention wide open, paving the way for future generations to explore beyond death metal’s four proverbial corners. Much like the band’s influences from the early ‘90s, Decrepit Birth have different optics on the genre and what has meant and continues to mean. Of course, Sotelo sees Axis Mundi from an entirely pragmatic viewpoint.
“I don’t know if we’re going to re-shape death metal,” he counters. “We’re just a band. We’re doing this. We’re fans of the genre. We do our own thing with it. It’s our own paint job. What sounds cool to us. We don’t aspire to be the most technical band out there. The technicality isn’t our main goal. Technicality is part of what we are. When we were writing this album, we wanted the songs that had riffs that repeat. There’s more structure with our new stuff. We’re trying to write good music. We want entertain people out there. Hopefully, everybody likes Axis Mundi.”
Decrepit Birth are: Matt Sotelo (guitar), Bill Robinson (vocals), Samus Paulicelli (drums), and Sean Martinez (bass). With minds agape and riffs afire and invocations cast, they invite you to enter Axis Mundi!