We fans of death metal have been blessed, much like Noah, with a flood of tremendous death metal over the last 18 months. It’s like the early 90s all over again except with different players, for the most part. Certain stalwarts, e.g. Immolation, Incantation, are still putting out top-notch efforts. But the younger generation is here and they certainly mean business. While many new bands are pushing boundaries, e.g. Pyrrhon, Succumb, many are content to amp up the core of the classic death metal sound. Riffs, thick, sometimes muddy production and driving rhythms perfectly paired with a tight, slightly distorted picked bass.
There are many areas of the world producing high-quality death metal. Denmark is one. Another is the bay area of California where Acephalix hails from. Acephalix is something of a super-collective of the underground metal scene. The band includes Luca (Vastum, Necrot), Dave Benson (Depressor), Daniel Butler (Vastum) and Kyle House (Serpents of Dawn). Since 2007 they have released four demos, one EP, three LPs and a compilation of their demos. Their sound is historically metallic, similar to fellow bay area death merchants Cartilage and Spinebreaker. Further, their sound often had a distinctively punk edge, kind of like a better, more focused, death-heavy version of Disfear.
The Sweet Lord gaveth unto the humans two things: sex and death metal.
— Manny-O-War (@MannyOWar) September 18, 2017
Early on Acephalix seemed intent on being primarily a crusty d-beat outfit that mixed in elements of death metal. When Aporia, their debut full-length, was released in 2010 the album was littered with classic d-beat elements. Dan’s vocals were energetic, encouraging and concretely rooted in punk traditions. Then came Interminable Night (the demo and the compilation covering late 2010-2011) and Acephalix seemed to be a band focused on death metal while allowing some crust elements to creep in around the edges. It seemed like Acephalix had finally hit their groove.
A groove that was only further cemented on their 2012 LP Deathless Master. Again, death metal dominated the release, with vocals that deepened to a death metal growl. The album was fast-pace. A true ripper in every sense. Breakdowns were littered throughout allowing tracks room to breathe, and presumably allowing fans to flail wildly, run in circles and kick at the floor in angry teen aggression. Also of note was the production on Deathless Master. Remaining almost tinny in its sonically metallic focus, the sound was intrinsically Californian.
Enter Decreation. Seemingly coming out of left field sonically and rhythmically, Decreation plunges Acephalix directly into the thick of the death metal scene. Slower, and more deliberate than their previous releases, Decreation has more in common with Danish death metal than it does their earlier work. And, while it’s not a scene-wide epidemic, it seems to be the direction of many bay area death metal bands with Acephalix and Necrot leading the way. The production is also warmer while allowing more instrument separation for what we shall call “riff clarification.”
Another relatively major change for Decreation is the composition style and song length. No longer content to follow a classic A/B composition style, the tracks on Decreation are far more complex (which inevitably leads to an increase in track length). But at only seven tracks, the album still tears by in under forty minutes making it completely palatable and digestible in one to three sittings.
Highlighting the new style is the second track “Suffer (Life in Fragments).” The briefest track on the album, at under four minutes, “Suffer” juxtaposes a central, halting riff with a two-step approach to the verses. Over the verses, part of the compositional complexity, hang guitar solos, squeals and other classically death metal flourishes. Vocally the track is brutal, including a perfect fist-shaking sing-along as the track spirals into its brief outro.
Longer tracks, like “Egoic Skin,” provide ample riffage, plenty of diversity and more than enough ride cymbal to keep things interesting. Extended intros and crescendos help build tension before that tension is released with the fury of a tank crashing into oncoming cavalry. Fans of Vastum will be interested in Dan’s vocal delivery here. It’s much more didactic and rhythmic than he uses in Vastum. In fact, for all his ability to rile a crowd, his style in Acephalix, particularly on Decreation, seems the most arousing. His punctuating growls and faltering, staccato use of rhythmic vocals make him more of an instrument than a poet.