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Decrepit Birth

Met ‘Axis Mundi’ brachten de tech death metallers van Decrepit Birth onlangs hun vierde plaat uit via Agonia Records. Zeven jaar hebben we moeten wachten op een opvolger op het derde album ‘Polarity’ uit 2010, maar het was het wachten waard. ‘Axis Mundi’ is een dijk van een plaat geworden met uitdagende songs met dikke riffs en vooruitstrevend drumwerk. Ik sprak gitarist Matt Sotelo aan de telefoon die een uitvoerig verhaal wist te vertellen over het onstaan van de nieuwe plaat.

Door: Dennis | Archiveer onder death metal / grindcore

You have just returned from the Devastation of the Nation tour with Cryptopsy, Rivers of Nihil, The Zenith Passage, The Kennedy Veil and Gloom. Your first tour in three years’ time. How did that go? Where there any juicy stories along the way?
It was a good tour! Yeah, you are right, we haven’t toured for three years, so it was kind of interesting. We kind of had to brush the dust off, but after about a week of playing it was like we didn’t miss any time and I think it was a good tour. I had a lot of fun. All together the bands were really good too, so that was cool. Nothing too crazy happened, we got stopped in Texas for having a little weed on me, but they were actually cool about it. I mean, Texas is a State here in the US that when it comes down to pot they are not really that cool about it. But it was a good thing I didn’t have very much on me, so they let me go. Other than that it was a pretty mellow tour with a lot of good shows, a lot of good turnouts, so it was really good to return to the United States for us.

I noticed you toured with a different drummer than the drummer you recorded the new album with
Yeah, our drummer Samus was busy, he has a full time job. He lives in Canada. Right now he can’t get time away from his job, so we had to hire a session touring drummer for this tour. His name is Gabe Seeber, we have used him before. He is also in another band called The Kennedy Veil, which is his main band. They were on this tour too, so he was doing double duty on this last tour. He played with his band and then a couple of bands later he would go on with us, so that was pretty crazy, but he is a really good drummer. He’s got some good experience touring, he was drummer for Abbath for a few tours, so he has got the experience and is an amazing drummer.

Between your last release ‘Polarity’ and ‘Axis Mundi’ there is a time gap of seven years. What have you been doing all these years and why did it take so long for a follow up record?
A lot of people are wondering what took us so long. Basically we came out with ‘Polarity’ in 2010, we did some touring for a few years, four actually. So we were busy with that. I was slowly writing music at the time, right after we came out with ‘Polarity’. But it was going slow, and it wasn’t actually what we wanted. Sometime around 2013 we decided to get really serious about writing the album. We wrote from 2013 to 2015, it took us about 2,5 years, from the time we actually started writing to the time that we finished writing for the record. And then we started recording in the Summer of 2015. Time is moving on, and if you are not moving quickly along it, somehow time slips away. Somehow in that time, from when we recorded the drums in 2015, it took about a year to do the vocals, the guitars, the bass tracks. It all took a while. And mixing the album took another three of four months. And to be honest, we had handed in the record last year at the end of the year, so it has been finished for quite a while already. But Nuclear Blast has a release schedule and they put us in at the Summer, so it is taking a while for the album to come out. I wish it had come out earlier, but what can you do, there is nothing really we can do at this point. So yeah, seven years! That’s a long time! I don’t think it will take that long for the next record. Besides that I have a family and family life is the most important thing in my life. I simply have to prioritize, and that’s my family and the band and the music is second priority when it really comes down to it. So that’s another reason why it took so long. The band is more of a hobby. I don’t want to make it a profession. Of course, if you would have asked me that same question ten years ago I would have a different answer, but at this point in time I just want to enjoy what I do. I don’t want to have to do certain things because people are telling me to do. To me this is art. Playing music is artistic and I don’t want to have to worry about money for my art. I mean, of course we have to get paid to play and there is an amount of business that does have to go on, I am not trying to deny that. But overall, as far as me making money for my family, this is only a residual, this is not a full on career for me. I am lucky enough to be able to do this, to still have my family life and be able to do both. It takes up a lot of time, but I am lucky.
Even if we weren’t signed to Nuclear Blast, and even if we didn’t have the amount of slight success that we have had over the last few years, I’d still be happy as long as I’m writing music and I can play my guitar and maybe play some shows. I am very satisfied with what I’ve done in the past and as far as the future goes, I am just going to play it like do things my way rather than coming out with an album right away. I just really want to do this my way, so it is kind of a hobby. So that’s kind of where I am at right now.

When you started writing ‘Asix Mundi’, did you have a clear vision in which direction the music should go, or did it just develop along the way?
Well, at first I had started writing a couple of songs, I had a few ideas I was working on right after the release of ‘Polarity’, but I wasn’t really working hard at it, just kind of slow working at it. And I didn’t know what style it was going to be, but it was almost sounding like more of the last album, more of the ‘Polarity’ stuff. I sent it to my drummer, but he said that’s cool, but I think we can do better. Let’s scrap this and let’s go a whole different direction. And he, Samus, really put a lot into the overall writing process. So in 2013, with his help we really dove into the songs and decided we wanted to write something that was different than the last couple of albums. Some songs are similar in some ways, but we wanted to go back to the feeling that we had on the first record. A little more simplistic at times even, where we do normal 4/4 timing riffs and we play them four times, you know, the normal thing, the kind of expected thing. But we wanted the riffs to be very effective. Like if we were to play some open air festival that happen in Europe, it is really hard when you’re playing fast technical music for everybody to understand what you are doing. Therefore I wanted to bring some groove this time, I wanted people to be able to drink a beer and bang their head, to get into it and to mosh. That’s what I think the new record brings to the table that was lacking on the last two records. The last two records were very much musician records. Records that were meant for other musicians, so to speak, where I feel that this record is a little bit easier for the average music fan to get into. It is more about the song than showing off our skills. I’d say the new music is more of a simple song writing formula, the riffs are more understandable, a little bit more catchy and decipherable. But at times we still go back to that progressive, esoteric thing that Decrepit Birth has been doing on the last four records.

’Axis Mundi’ was recorded in three different studios. What can you tell about the recording process? Did it go smoothly?
We started, the first studio, up in Canada, in Winnipeg where my drummer lives. We took out a week and we all went up there. We were at a studio called Private Ear Studios with producer Ryan Forsyth. He has a nice medium sized studio with a really nice recording console and some really good microphones and a good drum tracking recording room. So we did the drums there and we focused on the drum tracks while we were up there and it was probably the most professional studios that we have ever worked in. From there, we went home and brought the drum tracks back into our home studios, where we all have decent equipment. We are able to record DI guitars and DI bass and do the vocals and then from there we take our recorded tracks and we send them off to get them mixed. This time send them off to Stefano Morabito at 16th Cellar Studios in Italy. He took all our stuff and made the final mix. But it took a while before we got the mix going back and forth. Basically, his studio was the third studio. He did the mixing and mastering, he made sure our sound was tailored to what we wanted. That’s about it, he masters it and sends it off to the record label. This time around it is a little bit different of a mix, stylistically then what we have done on the last two records. I think it is more in your face.

Some people have their own opinions about the drums and the vocals. I have heard people complaining a little bit about the vocals. To me, I really love the vocals, I love what Bill (Robinson, vocals) did. We took a lot of time making sure that it was done correctly with his vocals and all the timings lined up, and made sure he had a lot of force in his voice, making sure he wasn’t half assing it. If he was feeling tired when he came over to record his vocals at my home studio, I would say, ‘Hey, if you’re not feeling it today, just go home and come back when you are ready’. So we took a long time on the vocals, and I am personally proud off the vocals. I read some comments on YouTube and some people were complaining and asked why we changed the vocals. ‘They are different than what we are used to from you guys’. Overall, I love them. And true, we changed them for more heavy and brutal death metal vocals. We weren’t trying to make it nice and understandable and easy to hear. We are trying to make something that is intense. The vocals are almost like another instrument and that’s why the vocals are the way they are. They are very brutal on this record, more brutal than on the last couple of records. I really like them, and to anyone that is complaining about the vocals, that’s fine, we can’t make everybody happy. But I would at least say that if you are complaining about the vocals, at least give the whole album a chance. Because you might find that it is not as bad once you listen to the whole. If you listen to the first songs all the way to the last song, crank up the stereo with a good set of speakers, I swear, people who might have a little bit of reservations about the vocals right now, I think, hopefully those reservations will go away. Crank that album op, listen to it, give it a chance and if they still don’t like the vocals, then there is nothing I can do, I can’t make everybody happy.

You also recorded three cover songs for the album, Metallica’s ‘Orion’, Sepultura’s ‘Desperate Cry’ and Suffocation’s ‘Infecting the Crypts’. Can you tell us why you choose for these three songs, and why you recorded three covers?
I have always wanted to do cover songs. We did a Death cover on the last album and for this album I was just like, let’s do three cover songs rather than just one. And everybody in the band agreed. I picked those songs because I love them obviously. I am a huge Suffocation fan, so I really wanted to do this song. If you listen to our album and you listen to the last song on the album, which is an instrumental song called ‘Embryogenesis’, it fades out into ‘Orion’, which obviously is a Metallica song that is also an instrumental song. They really go with each other and the way I feel having ‘Orion’ on the album was so important to me. It is a song I have loved since I was a kid. The first time I heard it I was like this is the most beautiful piece of music ever. It would be cool to do my own cover version of it someday. Some people ask why we do the covers we do them, they sound so much like the original versions rather than to make it sound like your own version. To me it is a challenge, I like to challenge myself musically and the challenge was to get the tones and the overall feeling as close to the originals as possible. And I don’t say it is exactly like the original version but it’s pretty damn close in my opinion.

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The members of Decrepit Birth live really spread out across the country (and Canada). How does this affect the way you write songs and get things done?
Yeah we are spread out. It does make it kind of hard, but in this day and age we all have computers and the way that I write the songs, usually I start the songs and I’ll be the one that makes a so called skeleton of the song. And then I submit my rough draft to the rest of the guys in the band. Sometimes they say it’s perfect, let’s just leave it. But on this album for the most part, my drummer Samus was really like ‘let me come in and let me help you with the song writing’. That’s kind of how it worked. And then Sean really contributed by adding his killer bass lines. We send the music to each other, we send these skeletons to each other and keep adding to it and it slowly it evolves into the song. From there we go into the studio and once we are tracking, it is still evolving. Basically as long as we have our master track that has the click tracks and the tempo map, it is really easy to take those files and send them to a drop-box. We send them to each other and open them up in our recording software and it is right there. It’s great that we have come to this point where we have this technology that enables us to pass around music and someone else could be on the other side of the world and effectively work on a piece of music, passing it back and forward and come up with something and you don’t need to be in the same room necessarily these days. That’s really cool.

In your line up we find a (relatively) new bassist, Sean Martinez, who played live with Decapitated and Malevolent Creation before. How did you guys get in contact and how did he get involved in Decrepit Birth.
He was actually a friend of Derek Boyer of Suffocation who is good friends with us obviously, he was on our first record. Derek was touring with us for a while when he was taking a break from Suffocation in 2011. We went and stayed with Derek in Long Island and we met Sean, who was a friend of his. Sean offered to help us out if Derek would have to go back to Suffocation, and that’s exactly what happened, Derek went back to Suffocation and said ‘Sean is a great bass player and he would take my place’. So that’s what we did, we took Sean in the band and did some tours with him and it worked really great. So I asked him to become a full time member in Decrepit Birth. He is such a good bass player and has so much to bring to the table. He accepted and he has been a total team-player contributing a lot. We never really had a bass player like him, he is creative, he looks at bass playing from a jazz perspective rather than from a heavy metal perspective. I mean, he is a metal bass player, but at the same time he is almost like a jazz bass player, like some sort of progressive kind of bass player. It is nice tom have someone that has this excellent understanding of his instrument come in and add to our music. I think his bass lines really stand out on the new album and that’s something we have never really had. Where he is almost doing bass solo’s at times or where he is doing some sort of polyrhythmic, polyphonic harmony kind of thing, where it is completely different from what I am doing, yet it works. I am really stoked on that and I am happy to have him in the band.

The only steady factors in Decrepit Birth over the years have been you (Matt) and Bill, with changing rhythm sections, you have had Kevin Talley, Tim Yeung and Derek Boyer in the band for instance. Has this changing of bandmembers held you back as a band to become more successful?
Yeah, definitely, switching members around is a pain in the ass, it slows things down. I have had to miss a lot of tours or decline a lot of tour offers that we could have done, but we were just not ready. This music is so intricate, it is damn technical and it is damn difficult to play. To find someone who can just step in and be ready to, especially like a drummer, be ready to learn to play these songs perfectly. And then they have to be ready to tour and have experience and all that stuff. Really, it is hard and it sets us back when you have to switch members. We were touring for ‘Polarity’ from 2010 to 2014 and we had another guitar player (Chase Fraser) who played rhythm guitar. He was from a band called Animosity. We parted ways with him in 2014 and ended up deciding it would be easier to use pre-recorded guitar tracks. On this last tour that we just did we had all the rhythm guitar parts, at least the parts that Chase used to play, pre-recorded. You know, they go through my computer out through the sound mixer. This way it is like we have a rhythm guitar. With Decrepit Birth there are a lot of parts where there are two guitar parts at the same time, or the guitars are each playing something slightly different and it is really hard to just go out with one guitar player and not have those rhythm guitars in there. So that’s something that’s kind of different right now about the band, we’re a four-piece without a proper rhythm guitar player. But that’s okay, because we had a really good tour doing it this way, with the pre-recorded guitar tracks. It worked out just fine, there were no issues. People would still come up to us and tell us it sounded awesome and tell us ‘I noticed you guys had the pre-recorded guitar tracks, but it didn’t bug me, it wasn’t like fake or anything’. So I think we are going to try and rock like this for a little while as a four-piece, and see how it does for us. But if the right guitar player comes along and he’s ready to go, we might bring another guitar player back in the band. But for now we’re good as a four-piece.

I think 2017 is a big year death metal with tons of good releases from bands like yourselves, Immolation, Incantation, Suffocation, Origin, Decapitated, Obituary, Hour of Penance and the list goes on. Do you think you can profit from this wave of good releases and do you think death metal is more popular than ever before?
First of all, it just happened that all these killer bands are coming out with all these killer records at the same time. It’s strange but it is awesome. And I feel lucky that our album kind of fits in at this time, because people will remember back you know, 2017 was a great year for death metal. There is a lot of shit that came up. My opinion on death metal is, it varies. It seems like it is regional. Especially in the US. Where I live the technical thing is really popular, the tech death here in California. Everybody wants to play real fast and play a gazillion notes. To me it is cool that they want to do that as long as they don’t forget the riff and don’t forget that this music has got to have some groove. People have got to be able to groove to it. As long as these younger bands remember that, everything will be just fine. It seems like in New York and on the east coast the technical thing is not necessarily so popular. They are more about the hardcore style, the deathcore stuff. There are a lot of deathcore bands coming out from the east coast of the United States. And I think that is cool too. It is different and not necessarily my thing. For me personally, I really miss the early 90s feel and attitude from the early 90s death metal scene from the stuff that was coming out of Florida, New York, the stuff that was coming out from Europe and Sweden in particular. I miss early 90s death metal, I miss this vibe and I don’t know where it went. Some bands still kind of have that vibe, but something is different now. Computers have taken over too much. The vibe from back then that miss, it was so dark. The music was not so out front and people weren’t so flashy. And I am not even saying that I’m not guilty of some of these things. I miss that old way off… the music first. You know, there’s so much flash. Somewhere around the 2000s bands like Necrophagist and Spawn of Possession were coming out, and even us or Origin. Everybody was trying to play super crazy fast guitar parts and super crazy guitar solos, so many how fast can we all make it. I feel a little something got lost along the way. I would like to bring back some of the feeling of that old school death metal vibe that was so cool back in the 90s. I hope with our new album we are kind of doing that. Of course, death metal bands back then weren’t playing as fast and they weren’t playing so much double bass and all that crazy stuff with the triggers and all the things you have to have these days. But I think that our riffs and our overall feeling that if you see us live, I think people will see that we try to bring some of that old vibe back. We are trying to bridge the gap between the modern scene and the old days and that’s kind of cool. There’s these other bands that are doing what they want to do and I say more power to them. And if they want to play their own style and play the way they want to play, I’ll just do it my way. Hopefully people will see that our way is our personal way of playing this music. That old school vibe is just so important to me, it just has to stay around for years to come. It gives me hope that a band like Immolation, who are older than us, to see them 25 years later and they are still doing the same shit, they are still able to get up on stage, fucking rock out and go and do big tours, it gives me hope. It means I can still do this and still have a career in front of me as far as having a good time with music and all that. It’s a positive thing. 2017 is a positive year for death metal and I am very happy that we have an album coming out this year.

Decrepit Birth hasn’t toured Europe that much, I believe 2013 and 2008 only, if I am not mistaken? I remember seeing you at two editions of Neurotic Deathfest ’08 and ’13 and at Death Feast Open Air in Germany. What do you like most about touring Europe and is it any different from touring the US?
Yeah definitely, as far as my experience, I can’t speak for the other bands… When we tour the United States it is very much up to ourselves. We are kind of out there on our own. But when we go to Europe, for some reason, it is all set up for us. You have the nightliner, you have a driver, touring in Europe is always easier, you get plenty of rest, the accommodations are really nice and meals are always there for you when get to the venue. In the United States it is a lot shittier, but when you come to the venue you got to ask whether there is going to be food, usually you are on your own. And that’s fine, I’m used to that, I’ve done hundreds of American shows an I’ve only done three European tours so far. I really want to go back to Europe and do more European tours because it is different than what I am used to and I really appreciate seeing different cultures and meeting people from far away. I’ve always like that, and it’s not just Europe. Even if we were to go to South-America or Asia, it’s just exciting to meet people that are a little bit different than you. Something different than what you’re used to and seeing history and stuff like that I really enjoy. Being in Europe and seeing all the old castles and all the history that is there, because America doesn’t have the same history that Europe does.

Are there any plans for a new European tour already?
We are working on it, nothing is set. Hopefully. My guess is that we will be back in Europe in 2018. But if we could work something out for this Fall, we would definitely love to go over to Europe. Time is running out though, a lot of the big tours have already been booked, the festival season is already going on, so it is too late for this year. So we are pretty much looking at 2018. We are also trying to book another American tour before the year is out. We want to have some sort of tour, because we have the new album out.

What else can we expect from Decrepit Birth the coming time?
We are working on an official music video. We would like to do a live DVD. Either we are going to record a few shows on tour or we would just do one long show on one night, shot with multiple angles. I would love to do that. And it’s something that I’m trying to think about how we could set that up. Something to look forward to in the next year. Check out or website and our Facebook for updates and new merchandise that is coming out. If you’re interested in us keep checking our profiles and internet stuff, there will be updates regularly and you can always find out where we are going to be.

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