On a rainy day in Pittsburgh (10/05/2017), some seriously brutal metal bands were preparing to kick off a months-long trek across the country. The first day of a tour is typically filled with nerves, last minute preps, and anticipation of the crowds. No need to worry about Steel Town, Pittsburgh represented in full force last night at Diesel Club Lounge.
Although Diesel is not an ideal location for a metal show, due to its origins as a dance club, replete with disco being played in between sets, the club does allow for a very intimate experience. And that is also what is very appealing about the metal genre, for the most part, the bands are very accessible and realize the only way they survive is with the fans who come to the shows, actually purchase their music, and maybe more importantly, buy their merch. Pittsburgh’s own Greywalker started off the evening with their aptly titled Steel City Trash In the past 2 years Greywalker has built a reputation for their relentless live performances and have shared the stage with bands such as Suicide Silence, Nile, Dark Tranquility, August Burns Red & Darkest Hour.
Pittsburgh’s own Greywalker started off the evening with their aptly titled Steel City Thrash style. In the past 2 years Greywalker has built a reputation for their live performances and have shared the stage with bands such as Suicide Silence, Nile, Dark Tranquility, August Burns Red & Darkest Hour. Named the “2nd Best Metal Band” in both the 2015 and 2016 Pittsburgh City Paper Readers Poll’s, they also took home the 1st Place award at the 2016 Brewtal Beer Fest for their beer collaboration with Penn Brewery & Maggie Farm Rum. In 2017 some of Greywalker’s music was transcribed to a 16-Bit format and used as part of the soundtrack to “Coffee Crisis”, a video game manufactured for the Sega Genesis by Mega Cat Studios in collaboration with Black Forge Coffee House. Excerpts from the Coffee Crisis soundtrack were also released on 7″ Late Cut Records cut by FFRecords (source: Facebook). Do yourself a favor and check them out https://www.facebook.com/greywalkermusic/.
Vancouver’s Wormwitch came up next with equal parts black metal and rock n’ roll. WORMWITCH is known for their “high-octane rush of deep, grinding riffs, piston-driven drumming, and thundering bass” (No Clean Singing) Their last release, “Strike Mortal Soil” is about being alive and what that means in today’s society. The band elaborated, “We live in a society both obsessed with and terrified of death. We exist in a world constantly seeking immortality through fame or Gods. “Strike Mortal Soil” means to live with a furious passion. It is to be able to enter one’s grave like lightning, in rejection of eternity. It enforces the message that life has worth, not from your nationality, your land, your God or your flesh, but what you do with yourself.” Definitely a band with showmanship, they were loud, brash, and in your face the way that metal should be. You owe yourself a favor to get to the show early and witness what they are laying down.
David Davidson – Guitars / Vocals
Dan Gargiulo – Guitars / Vocals
Brett Bamberger – Bass / Vocals
Ash Pearson – Drums
The tone shifted as the ominous background tone began to drone and the legends, Decrepit Birth took the stage. 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 the 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 isn’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 a 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 withAxis Mundi, but what was 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.” The new and older music is so worth getting out there to see live, for they are an experience like no other. Vocalist Bill Robinson has a voice that defies description in its sewer level graphic gravel tone. The band plowed through a crazy tight set leaving the crowd feeling as though they had been drawn and quartered. An added bonus was seeing Sean of Decrepit Birth all over his fretboard with his Beardly Customs bass, made by our good friend Rick Link.
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.
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 has 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 to 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!
The Black Dahlia Murder did not waste any time in riling up the audience. They came loaded for bear and popped off right away. Any band that has earned an army of devout followers through dropping seven killer full-lengths – and touring their collective ass off for sixteen years – could perhaps be forgiven for thinking they could take it easy as they wade into their eighth release. But that’s just not The Black Dahlia Murder‘s style, and Nightbringers is a testament to that. Having released their most accomplished, aggressive, and emotionally diverse music to date in the form of 2015’s Abysmal, the Michigan quintet has once more pushed themselves to new heights, and the 34 minutes of searing melodic death metal that comprises Nightbringers is riveting listening. “I always feel a responsibility to the people who support this band when we start making a new record,” asserts vocalist Trevor Strnad. “The pressure that comes from people being excited to hear what you come up with next can be intimidating, but it’s so exciting that those people love you so much for just doing what you do. It makes you want to honor what you’ve done in the past, but also excite them with where you go next, and that definitely drove us on ‘Nightbringers‘.When we started writing I honestly didn’t know we had this album in us, and I feel really proud of it. It’s a great moment for us.” Hearing some of these tunes for the first time was riveting, to say the least. BDM is at the top of their grimy game, attacking with more “thrashiness” and brutal audible onslaught than ever before. Swinging for the fences, the band is poised to take their riff-heavy metal to new heights this year.
Rather than meticulously plan things out or stick rigidly to any kind of template, when it comes to writing, The Black Dahlia Murder prefer to let things happen organically. In the hands of guitarist Brian Eschbach – who co-founded the band with Strnad in 2001 – and new recruit Brandon Ellis(Arsis, ex-Cannabis Corpse), Nightbringers is rich with dynamic riffs that are at once fresh and classic TBDM, resulting in a collection that shifts through many moods and effortlessly incorporates various elements of extreme metal. With guitarist Ryan Knight having amicably stepped down in 2016, the addition of twenty-four-year-old Ellis to the band’s ranks has helped usher in an exciting new era. “He’s very professional for his age, I think he’s skilled far beyond his years, and his live energy is exceptional. When Max (Lavelle, bass) joined the band he challenged a lot of us on stage to raise our personal bar, and Brandon’s pushed that even further,” states Strnad. “Brandon coming into the band and writing a bunch of songs was an awesome surprise too. He really took the reins, and this record is also the most involved that Alan (Cassidy drums) has been too. The way that we were doing the demos and bouncing things back and forth he had a lot of room to do what he wanted to do, and I think it’s definitely a more colorful album for that. I also think as we get older the emotional content goes up. I think we better realize how to grip the listener. Personally, I try to write lyrics that are going to match each part, and kind of ramp up those feelings that we’re putting across.” Strnad’s statements are vividly borne out by every moment of Nightbringers. For fans attending 2017’s Summer Slaughter tour, the first taste of the record came with the inclusion of the title track in their set, which has an undeniable immediacy to it, rich with hooks and boasting a “circusy, evil and playful” air. By contrast, “Catacomb Hecatomb” is suffused with tragedy, the mournful tone of its slower passages deeply affecting. This too is dramatically different to “As Good As Dead”, which has some swagger to it that Strnad likens to Megadeth, or “Matriarch”, described by Eschbach as a “wild, neoclassical romp” and stands as one of the most cutthroat and all-out aggressive tracks in the quintet’s arsenal. Upon first hearing the latter, Strnad was intent on matching its visceral intensity. “I felt inspired to write very violent lyrics to it. It’s told from the perspective of a woman who is trying to have a child and not having any luck, and she goes kind of crazy and stalks this other woman who is due to have a child. She finds her moment to take it from her, cutting it right out of her stomach.” While Strnad explores a variety of themes and ideas with his lyrics, they are united by the album’s title, which embraces a tenet that has been central to The Black Dahlia Murder‘s output since the very beginning. “Death metal and nighttime are synonymous to me. We are the rulers of the darkened hours that the Christian good fears. A lot of archaic ideas that are still upheld – such as marriage and monogamy – came from Christianity, whether people want to acknowledge it or not, and to me, death metal has always been bucking that. It’s ‘being-the-villain music’, because we’re the enemy of Christianity, the enemy of all that is good and traditional. Death metal is for free thinkers, it’s for showing people the path to inner strength and operating on your own will, instead of being told what to do and living in fear, and songs like the title track and ‘Kings Of The Nightworld’ are about leading a legion of awakened minds into battle.” Following this theme also motivated Strnad to forge into ever-darker territory, even when this meant tearing things up and starting over. “I felt I needed to rise to the occasion to make as much of the blood and guts and heinousness as possible, and there was actually a couple of points where I rewrote some songs. I just didn’t feel like they were dark enough, or violent enough, so I was really trying to ramp up the monstrous aspects of things – the grizzlier the better!”
Rather than decamp to a single studio, the members split off when it came time to start laying down the songs – all well versed in how to get the best out of their individual performances. With former bassist Ryan Williams once again assisting, the drums were tracked at The Pipe Yard in Plymouth, Michigan and rhythm guitars and bass in the band’s practice space in Warren, Michigan. Ellis then recorded his many blistering solos in his home studio, while Strnad opted to record at his home in Auburn Hills, Michigan with Joe Cincotta (Suffocation, Internal Bleeding) of Full Force Studios overseeing his sessions. For the unique and haunting cover art they turned to Kristian Wahlin, aka Necrolord, who has designed seminal artwork for the likes of At The Gates, Bathory, Emperor and also TBDM‘s 2007 release, Nocturnal. “I think he’s the most prominent artist when it comes to classic releases in the melodic death metal genre, and kind of bringing things full circle with it being the ten-year anniversary of‘Nocturnal’felt right. By now people probably wouldn’t have expected us to go back to him, so it’s kind of a surprise, but at the same time it’s a very classic cover too.” With the band celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the aforementioned album by playing it in its entirety on Summer Slaughter, it has given them a moment to reflect not only on the road that has led them to here but also that which lies ahead. “When I think back to when we started the band, I feel very proud of everything we’ve done, and I also see a lot of improvement over the years,” says Strnad. “In the early songs, I can hear us as kids, and then segueing into our adulthood as musicians and writers, but sixteen years in, I still feel young as a band. I feel like we have a shit ton left to do, and I think we’re sitting pretty with the best lineup we’ve ever had. I also think ‘Nightbringers‘ could be our finest hour yet. I feel very strongly that it will affect people, I want to get all of these songs in people’s ears, and I want them to check out everything we’ve got on this record. There’s so much variety and so many great ideas, and I think that this could take us to another place.”
The Black Dahlia Murder tour dates
w/ Suffocation, Decrepit Birth, Necrot, Wormwitch
Oct. 6 – Rochester, NY – Montage Music Hall
Oct. 7 – Lowell, MA – Mill City Ballroom
Oct. 8 – Poughkeepsie, NY – Chance Theater
Oct. 10 – New York, NY – Highline Ballroom
Oct. 11 – Teaneck, NJ – Debonair Music Hall
Oct. 12 – Baltimore, MD – Ram’s Head Live
Oct. 13 – Easton, PA – One Center Square
Oct. 14 – Lancaster, PA – The Chameleon
Oct. 16 – Montreal, QC – Les Foufounes Electriques
Oct. 17 – Ottawa, ON – Bronson Center
Oct. 18 – Toronto, ON – Opera House
Oct. 20 – Joliet, IL – The Forge
Oct. 21 – Ft. Wayne, IN – Piere’s
Oct. 22 – St Louis, MO – Delmar Hall
Oct. 23 – Omaha, NE – The Slowdown
Oct. 25 – Ringle, WI – Q & Z Expo Center
Oct. 26 – Winnipeg, MB – Pyramid Cabaret
Oct. 27 – Regina, SK – The Exchange
Oct. 28 – Edmonton, AB – Starlite
Oct. 29 – Calgary, AB – Marquee
Oct. 31 – Vancouver, BC – Rickshaw Theater
Nov. 1 – Seattle, WA – Studio Seven w/ Exhumed
Nov. 2 – Eugene, OR – WOW Hall w/ Exhumed
Nov. 3 – Lake Tahoe, NV – Vinyl @ Hard Rock w/ Exhumed
Nov. 4 – Petaluma, CA – Phoenix Theater * w/ Exhumed
Nov. 5 – San Bernardino, CA – KnotFest ** w/ Exhumed
Nov. 6 – Mesa, AZ – Club Red w/ Exhumed
Nov. 7 – Las Vegas, NV – Hard Rock Cafe
Nov. 9 – Oklahoma City, OK – Diamond Ballroom
Nov. 10 – Birmingham, AL – Zydeco
Nov. 11 – Louisville, KY – Diamond Pub Concert Hall
Nov. 12 – Indianapolis, IN – Emerson Theater
*= no Suffocation
**= no Necrot, Wormwitch
The Black Dahlia Murder tour dates
w/ Cannibal Corpse, No Return (Feb. 9-25), In Arkadia (Feb. 27-Mar. 18)
Feb. 9 – Hannover, Germany – Musikzentrum
Feb. 10 – Copenhagen, Denmark – Vega
Feb. 11 – Gothenburg, Sweden – Sticky Fingers
Feb. 12 – Stockholm, Sweden – Klubben
Feb. 13 – Oslo, Norway – Parkteatret
Feb. 15 – Kolding, Denmark – Godset
Feb. 16 – Hamburg, Germany – Gruenspan
Feb. 17 – Geiselwind, Germany – Music Hall
Feb. 18 – Bochum, Germany – Matrix
Feb. 20 – Kassel, Germany – 130bpm
Feb. 21 – Prague, Czech Republic – Palac Aropolis
Feb. 22 – Bratislava, Slovakia – Majestic Music Club
Feb. 23 – Munich, Germany – Backstage
Feb. 24 – Magdeburg, Germany – Factory
Feb. 25 – Stuttgart, Germany – im Wizemann
Feb. 27 – Geneva, Switzerland – L’Usine
Feb. 28 – Milan, Italy – Live Club
Mar. 1 – Grenoble, France – Belle Electric
Mar. 2 – Toulouse, France – Le Metronum
Mar. 3 – Bilbao, Spain – Santana 27
Mar. 4 – Madrid, Spain – Penelope
Mar. 6 – Barcelona, Spain – Razzmatazz 2
Mar. 7 – St. Etienne, France – Le Fil
Mar. 8 – Caen, France – Cargo
Mar. 9 – Antwerp, Belgium – Trix
Mar. 10 – Cologne, Germany – Essigfabrik
Mar. 11 – Eindhoven, Netherlands – Dynamo
Mar. 13 – Norwich, UK – Waterfront
Mar. 14 – Manchester, UK – O2 Ritz
Mar. 15 – Glasgow, UK – O2 ABC
Mar. 16 – Bristol, UK – Bierkeller
Mar. 17 – Nottingham, UK – Rock City
Mar. 18 – London, UK – O2 Forum Kentish Town
Mar. 19 – Dublin, Ireland – Tivoli*
Mar. 20 – Limerick, Ireland – Dolan’s Warehouse*
Mar. 22 – Belfast, Ireland – Limelight 2*
*= no The Black Dahlia Murder