POLARITY: THE APEX OF DECREPIT BIRTH’S SWEET & SOUR DEATH METAL
Sometimes bands sound better on paper than they do in execution. The allure of “a combination of X with Y + brutal death metal = THE GREATEST BAND YOU WILL EVER HEAR!” is pretty impossible to dismiss at first, but once the reality sinks in — that, yes, the band combines these elements, but for no particular reason — they become easy to ignore. Decrepit Birth appear to be this kind of band, what with combining melodic death metal, brutal tech-death, and prog in equal parts. But even though their last album, Diminishing Between Worlds, occasionally tilted into the territory of riff salad, the combination felt more organic than novelty. The impressive thing was that while there was no shortage of palatable, melodic riffs, they were also alarmingly heavy.
The band’s latest, Polarity, is where all that gels. Moving beyond the “OMG!” factor of being a successful hybrid of several genres, Polarity is the sound of a band coming into its own. Decrepit Birth are way better in reality than they are on paper, which is really saying something.
Whereas Diminishing was a collection of great songs, Polarity is a great album. That alone doesn’t make one better than the other, necessarily, but Polarity works better as a whole, even if, when isolated, certain songs may feel incomplete (“A Brief Odyssey in Time” is the band distilled into a minute or so, and “Sea of Memories” is a brilliant instrumental that may not operate as well on its own). It ebbs and flows, with intense peaks and deep, lush valleys. There’s a specific attention paid to songwriting instead of simply pasting cool riffs together, hoping they fit. The result isn’t just admirable, but moving. There are more prog parts, but they’re more than welcome to play alongside the band’s considerable death metal chops. Initially, certain pieces feel out of place; after spending some time with the record — which you’ll likely to be compelled to do as soon as “Embrace Darkness,” the album’s closer, ends — they sound deliberate and correct. Polarity (especially the title track) moves so fast that it’s easy to miss interesting notes and nuances, but the album’s so densely layered yet immediately gratifying that you’ll want to go back and find them.
Even the record’s weak points are elements the band turns into strengths. Garden variety growler Bill Robinson stands in stark contrast to the music’s relative lushness, providing grit and extremity where a melodeath-style screamer may have just provided a phoned in performance (those familiar with the band know his out-there, metaphysical lyrics are essential to the band as well). And the album’s pristine, Big Metal production leaves all the performances clear and out in the open while simultaneously not overshadowing the band’s impressive nimbleness. That nimbleness is Polarity’s biggest asset: no longer a just brutal death band with melodic riffs, Decrepit Birth are a confident, free-standing unit that move the way they want to. Admittedly, the album’s less heavy than its predecessor (though it’s hard to get heavier than the melodic slam (!) that closes out Diminishing Between Worlds’ “Through Alchemy Bound Eternal”), but that works to its advantage.
I feel like I should be spending more time with the band’s last album; I can’t get enough of Polarity. In theory, Decrepit Birth are just Cynic if Cynic were actually death metal like everyone said they were back in the day, or what Necrophagist would sound like if they spent a week smoking fistfulls of hash and listening to Death and At the Gates. But, in fact, they’re Decrepit Birth, a force unto themselves, marrying absurd technicality, notable brutality, and remarkable accessibility like no other band I’ve heard before.
(4 out of 5 horns)