San Francisco death metal quintet, Acephalix, are veterans of the West Coast scene. They formed in 2007 and have three albums to their name leading up to their latest effort. Daniel Butler (vocals) and David Benson (drums) are the sole surviving founder members of the group, while Erika Osterhout (bass) and Adam Walker (second guitarist) make their debuts on album number four for their second LP to see a release via 20 Buck Spin. If you like your crusty death metal, you’re in for a treat. Those of you bored by the genre will find it harder to navigate through the charmless audio offensive.
On the surface, Theothanatology should be an easy record to surmount, but that’s part of the problem – it’s an experience you must survive rather than enjoy. Opener, ‘Theothanatologist’, starts like a Ministry composition with sampled vexations of human voice and a crunchy riff that could easily thrive off a drum machine beat. Instead, they take the sensible option of adding hardcore drums and savage grunt vocals, yet it never feels like an old school reunion. Take out the harsh vocals and you could even call this thrash metal a la Sepultura. Blast beats are sporadic but effective on ‘Godheads’, and the way they use backing shrieks to counter the barbaric vocals adds another dimension to the murderous assault. Like a full English breakfast, it’s impossible to dislike the offering even though some of the items are more useful for filling your stomach than satiating your taste buds.
If patience is a virtue, then what about dependability? Acephalix are the personification of dependability. ‘Postmortem Punishment’ and ‘Defecated Spirit’ share the same punk-infused spirit as Autopsy and remind you that death metal will always thrive on the edge of noise and chaos. True, you’ll find no overproduced virtuoso meandering here, but few of the tracks grab you by the throat. The imaginative tom drum parts to the opening beat of ‘Innards of Divinity’ are the highlight of the entire song. Like Frozen Soul, they have all the attributes of a death metal wrecking ball, but they slip into monotony at the halfway point of the record. We need more variation and more ideas from the guitarists beyond the bottom two strings and the first five frets. They could compensate for this by delivering the most absurd exercise in primitive noise, but the outcome is a midway point between Bolt Thrower and Gatecreeper.
Let’s be clear: Acephalix do little wrong here, but the entire listening experience from track one to track eight is one confined to the same black and grey colour palette. This works on ‘Abyssal’ with its sludgy bass guitar intro and nod to Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious by Carcass in the way the riffs squirm through the drum patterns. But you find yourself celebrating snippets of songs rather than absorbing their full impact with an incredulous expression on your face.
Theothanatology is a listenable album but not one you’ll rush to repeat when you have the latest Autopsy record at your disposal.
Release Date: 30/09/2022
Record Label: 20 Buck Spin
Standout tracks: Theothanatologist, Abyssal, Pristine Scum
Suggested Further Listening: Autopsy – Skull Grinder (2015), Cancer – Death Shall Rise (1991), Frozen Soul – Crypt of Ice (2021)