ACEPHALIX "Off With Their Heads!"

By Dr. Abner Mality

Sometimes the pursuit of the heaviest of metal leads one to discover new ideas and frontiers. That's what happened when I spoke to vocalist Daniel Butler of the grim and crushing San Francisco band Acephalix. As you will shortly find out, Acephalix is strongly influenced by the works and philosophy of renegade French philosopher George Bataille. Butler's interest in Bataille led me to find out more about this controversial thinker...a man who believed in elevating body above mind, sex and excrement above selfless love, and anarchy above conformity.

Now there is a messiah for death metal! To find out more about Bataille, I suggest you check out this site: I wonder what Bataille would have made of Acephalix? Because the music of this fearsome foursome is like the howling of a demonic beast unleashed to devour a helpless humanity. This is death metal at its barbaric and rootsy best:  primtive, dark, bestial.

The new Acephalix album "Deathless Master" is proof positive that American death metal can be as raw and brutal as anything coming out of Europe. When I talked to Dan, I half expected his voice to be the same sort of ravaging roar I heard on the record. But no, he sounds quite normal.

Let's now dive into the depths of sonic and moral perversity with Acephalix...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: I'm curious about the name of the band. What's the story behind the name?

DAN BUTLER: I was first exposed to the word by reading George Bataille, a French philosopher, who was part of the founding of a journal called "Acephale" in early 20th century France. It means "headless". I guess that idea can be applied to anything from a physical body to a social body. It could be a physical body without a head or a social body without a leader. You could say it's a kind of anarchist idea. Generally, it's meant to refer to the abandonment of reason, of thinking with my head. It's letting my body do my thinking for me.

WC: So there are multiple meanings to it.

DB: Yes, basically it just means "headless".

WC: What's the musical background of Acephalix? Do you all come from a metal background?

DB: All of us grew up listening to metal but I think in general, our formative years were crossover years, when punk and metal were intersecting a lot. I'd say all of us have backgrounds in both punk and metal. All of us definitely grew up with metal.

WC: I can definitely hear some of that D-beat, Discharge style punk in your sound. Would you agree?

DB: Sure. We definitely have an extensive punk background. We started as more of a metal punk band, with the punk elements a lot more pronounced in our early stuff.  We were still metal them, but there was more d-beat in the earlier stuff.

WC: What was it that turned you on to the real extreme stuff?

DB: It goes back to my attraction to the idea of headlessness. It marks a region of excess, so it's a very intense experience. It was a pretty organic decision for us to start playing death metal. From the beginning of Acephalix, I had an interest in having it sound like Deathstrike. I think Deathstrike was such a badass, more brutal "Hellhammer meets Discharge" type of band. I recently read in the zine "Chips And Beer" that Deathstrike sounded like a combination of the 4 Skins and Hellhammer! (laughs) That sounded pretty unique and it's just fuckin' brutal punk that totally crushes. It's more brutal than punk but also more punk than what most people consider death metal. That fusion had long been an interest of mine and gradually everybody else in the band began listening to more death metal and being more inspired by death metal. We had some of those influences from the very just began to eclipse our other influences and take center stage in our  creative process.

WC: It sounds like you also draw a lot of influence from the old Swedish masters, like Grave, Dismember, Seance...

DB: Definitely Grave! Grave are a huge influence and the other bands are great, too. We've always listened to lots of different kinds of death metal, though. On "Deathless Master", there's some Cianide influence and I hear  some of Kyle's breakdowns have a kind of East Coast Baphomet, Carnal Dissection moshy sound.

WC: Maybe a little early Immolation...

DB: Yeah, yeah, for sure.  For "Deathless Master", we also listened a lot to Demigod from Finland, so it wasn't just Swedish bands we were influenced by. But Grave I would have to say have been the biggest influence.

WC: When you went from your previous record "Interminable Night" to the new "Deathless Master", what was it that you most wanted to accomplish?

DB: "Interminable Night" was just two demos spliced together, so we really wanted to record a full album. The two demos of ""Interminable Night" both had pretty different sounds as well. We wanted to record something that was a little more integrated in the way it sounded, rather than sounding like two different recordings. Beyond that, I feel like we found a style for ourselves, like a plodding, mid-paced, pretty burly style of death metal.

WC: It's one of the darkest and heaviest American releases I've heard in quite some time. You mentioned Cianide and I can definitely hear that in there. If all goes well, I'm going to see them this Friday night in Milwaukee at a two day fest...

DB: Awesome! Yeah, I heard about it...Bloodfeast is also playing there, along with Absconder.

WC: It would be great if you could get on one of these bills, you fit what they're looking for.

DB: For sure. I love underground death metal. We feel it and you can hear that in our style. I like the word "guttural" ...the reason I like it because death metal has that "guttural" quality.

WC: I sometimes see that term used in different ways...

DB: Oh yeah, like the "slam" ultra-brutal death metal.

WC: Yeah. I don't see you being a part of that. It's got its place but I've never been much into guys that squeal like a pig.

DB: Nah, nah, nah, that's not what I mean. We have to be careful when we use these terms . I never got into that era of death metal very much except for a few East Coast bands...

WC: Cannibal Corpse....

DB: Yeah, exactly, Suffocation and such bands who crossed over into that territory. When I say "guttural", I mean blood and guts...a rawness.

WC: Right now there's a big schism in death metal between bands that have the more primitive, catchy style and others that are ultra-technical and fast. I would put you pretty firmly on the side of the primitive bands. Is that a term you would be comfortable with?

DB: Yeah, for sure. "Primitive" is a word that inspires us, absolutely. I'm not really into the more technical side of death metal. I do like those kind of bands, but I know what you mean about the schism. I still feel we very much have a punk approach to death metal. When we play a show, I want to play a show for people who want to go fucking nuts and just lose themselves in the music. People who become "headless" and let their body get into it.  Often, that's not gonna happen in a club. That's what kind of sucks. And that's what I love about punk. I think the craziness is more likely to happen in someplace like a warehouse or a squat. Not that it wouldn't happen in a club. When we played Europe, we had club shows where people were pretty fucking into it. But generally speaking, with technical death metal, I feel the whole experience of it is kind of neutered.

WC: Ever play in Chicago?

DB: Chicago has some of my favorite death metal, absolutely. Cianide, Master, Usurper.

WC: How did Acephalix wind up on Southern Lord Records?

DB: Greg sent us an email. He got our demo one night and was really into it. He asked us if we would like to do a record with him. That was pretty much it. We discussed it and thought we'd give it a try.

WC: Are you happy with them so far?

DB: Yeah, it's cool! I feel that sometimes when bands sign with certain labels, it changes things dramatically. You sort of automatically get lumped in with a new category of bands that have less to do with the genre they play than the label itself, you know what I mean? We try to be careful about that and focus on playing with bands we like, mostly in the Northwest. But there are also a lot of cool death metal fests all around the country that we'd love to play. Hopefully the label can help make that happen.

WC: Your lyrics are obviously very dark,  but do they come from a personal place, an occult place or something different yet?

DB:  Some of the lyrics are personal, but a lot of them are centered around George Bataille's ideas. He was really influenced by neo-platonic philosophy and Christian mysticism...some pretty obscure stuff. He was into the Mithraic cult, which I don't really know that much about....

WC: One of the world's oldest religions. I can't say I'm an expert, but it had a lot to do with bulls and it was revived during Roman times.

DB: That's cool. I was just recently reading an article and the author suggested that Bataille was very influenced by Mithraic ideas. He was also influenced by Gnosticism to some extent, but unlike the Gnostics, Bataille was more interested in the material body as a site of enlightenment. His philosophy has been referred to as "base materialism" so he was always interested in eroticism, death, and sacrifice and how the body is kind of a conduit for transcendental experience. People used to refer to him as the "excremental philosopher" because he saw the transformative potential in decay and excrement...all the waste and abject aspects of life. The lyrics are all centered around those ideas, but certain songs have more specific lyrical themes.

WC: Who or what is the "Deathless Master" in the title of your new album?

DB:  (laughs) That's a good question! 

WC: I usually associate that term with a Tibetan guru or something similar.

DB: For this particular use, it comes from Hinduism. It's taken from a book on yoga or the ritual signifigance of yoga. This song is one of the few songs that isn't more directly related to Bataille. It's pretty much about experiencing a total disintegration or fragmentation of one's self. In the throes of this self-fragmentation, you experience transcendence. So who is the master? I'm not really sure. I feel the fragmentation itself is the Master.

WC: Is the answer up to the listener himself?

DB: Yeah, sort of! One of the lyrics is "surrender to grief and your master calls". So it's my own experience when I felt that fragmentation, but for every person, it would be different. For some people, not much happens when they have that fragmentation, but for me, I felt like I was going to die. I experienced something....I'm really hesitant to try and put words to it. It was a real and total estrangement from myself. I'm alien to myself suddenly, but that alien figure reconstitutes me as something that exceeds language.

WC: Well, it's more profound than "Hammer Smashed Face", I'll say that! (laughs)

DB: (laughs) I love that, too, though! That's what I love about death metal,'s all about the body! It's about fuckin' brutalizing the body and also brutalizing who I am and who I think I am.

WC: Do you think Bataille would have been a death metal guy?

DB: Dude, I was thinking about this the other day! It's so funny you ask me that question. I don't know, I'm not really sure. Maybe...I would hope so because there's so much crappy music out there. I certainly think he would find value in the ideas, but the music itself? I don't know. I'm more inclined to see him listening to Wagner.

WC: If you could ask any three people from history to dinner, who would they be?

D: (laughs) That's a great question. I think probably it would have to be...Elizabeth Bathory.

WC: Better watch the silverware with that one...(laughter)

DB:  And then...I'm blanking on his name. Bataille wrote a book on him. He molested a lot of kids in the Middle Ages...

WC: Gilles de Rais...

DB: Yeah, thank you! Gilles de Rais! And then maybe Simon Vey, a Christian mystic, to keep it interesting.

WC: That sounds like a merry crew! What was the last CD you got just because you wanted to check out the band?

DB: Hmmm, should have expected this. I got something from Blessed Offal, a band from Boston. That has been one of my favorite demos I've heard in a long time. It's really brutal in an old school way, similar to Grave. I like Absconder,too...they're playing that fest you're going to. The dude from Morgue, back in the early 90's,is in it. I like them,too!

WC: What was the last band you checked out live just because you wanted to see them?

DB: Uhhh...let's see. I haven't been to a show in a while. Who the hell did I see last? We played a show with Mournful Congregation, who were amazing. All the bands that night were great...Anhedonist, Aldebaran.

WC: In the history of Acephalix, has there ever been any Spinal Tap moment where things went wrong?

DB: Oh, dude! For sure! (laughs) The first one that comes to my mind is when we were playing with Cannabis Corpse years ago. Not many people were there. There was supposed to be this real heavy part where all the other instruments drop out, leaving the guitar to go CHUNG-CHUNG! Instead, the guitar goes "ding-ding" (makes a weak twangy sound). It's supposed to be a solo moment but he didn't step on his distortion pedal, so it sounded totally twangy and non-distorted. (laughs) It sounded real funky and funny. Then, when we played in Austria, that was pretty fuckin' horrible! There was like NO ONE there and we were going fucking nuts. Our band banner, I've never seen it higher. It was a HUGE banner. We were going nuts and it sounded SO bad! (laughs) The sound was terrible and we weren't really gelling. I was really freaking people out, they were standing far away from me. We all had our shirts off and were really going nuts. The people there weren't stoked on us at all.

WC: You might as well have fun with it.

DB: For sure. It was cathartic for us, that was for certain. Unfortunately, we didn't sell a damn thing that night...

WC: Got any last words for the faithful out there?

DB: I hope we get to tour the Midwest and the East Coast, because we love to play for all the diehard death metal people out there.