Acephalix "Deathless Master" LP

Acephalix "Deathless Master" LP

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Dropping the crust punk of their earlier offerings, the San Francisco band is committed to old-school death metal on its brutal, surprisingly catchy latest LP.

San Francisco's Acephalix began as a hybrid of crust punk and death metal. Given that a couple of their earliest releases came out on Prank, it's natural a little punk would shine through the murk. Through a pair of tapes released in 2010 and 2011, and packaged together as Interminable Night, the death-metal influence became more prevalent. D-beats were still a component of the band's machinery, but the riffing began to resemble Grave and other stalwarts of 1990s Swedish death metal. On Deathless Master, the crust presence has all but departed, and Acephalix are now committed to death metal. In metal, consistency is more desirable than diversity-- bands are at their most potent when they record albums where the sound is uniform and where the atmosphere is established. There's always the occasional Naked City, but Acephalix know they are not Naked City. They know that finding your strength and focusing on that will reap artistic dividends, which is exactly what Deathless does.

Spiritually, the quartet-- which shares three members with the newer group Vastum-- takes cues from the most ancient death metal band of them all, Master. When Paul Speckmann created Master in 1983, there was no "death metal." He took the thrash and heavy metal he loved, amplified the harsh aspects, and birthed the new genre. Acephalix display a similar appreciation for simplicity on Deathless-- they don't seek to fancify death metal, but to penetrate the soil deeper. Riffs are still of the Swedish persuasion, but Acephalix also work in grooves that they can call their own. Guitarist Kyle House has a knack for catchiness in a genre that seldom rewards such a trait; this is especially seen in "On Wings...", where he maintains a bounce even when the chord patterns and tempos shift. "The Hunger" serves the same function as the long closing title track from Interminable, but improves upon that template. House's introductory lead is off-kilter and angular; from there the band continues to vamp and pummel until the track fades out.

Acephalix's most noticeable transformation is with vocalist Daniel Butler. In the group's earlier days, he had a snarl that was kept high enough to fit the then-crusty sound. Out of all the members, he's embraced the shift in direction the most, delivering a guttural yell seemingly submerged in tar. His vocals add the ambiance a death-metal album needs-- that the band is overtaking you, that you are a slave to the inevitable. You have to wonder if he's had it in him this whole time, and he was just waiting for the right music to really let hell break out. Lesser bands will list their vocalist under "Vokills" in their liner notes as a contrived measure of brutality; Butler will simply use his gut to strangle you.

What's also interesting about Deathless is that, while it's an entirely different organism from the rest of the band's works, like them, it was recorded at San Francisco's Lennon Studios with Vöetsek's Jef Leppard. He's in tune with the band's changes, and dials in appropriately thick tones. It's nice to see that a band can organically develop its sound while still maintaining a home-grown sensibility. Should the relationship continue, how else will Acephalix mutate in the future? Sometimes, even the music most focused on darkness can inspire a burst of optimism.

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