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If the angel's headless, where does the halo go? - 84%

JetMeestard, November 21st, 2020
Written based on this version: 2017, Digital, Independent (Bandcamp)

Kentucky's Akephalos is a brutal death metal act that has been around since 2009, yet has only released a single EP in 2011. Headless Demon Angel is the band's 2017 debut, which I only heard about thanks to a certain someone stumbling upon them and showing them to me. What we have here is 41 minutes of well executed brutal death metal, which is sure to leave any fans of the genre more than satisfied, if not wanting more.

An organ and some female vocals set the stage, and almost immediately “Spewed Forth From the Womb of Hell'' lurches at the listener with a slow riff, which slowly ramps up to blistering speeds, with leads to match. From that point onward the band expertly alternates tempos and speeds and throws a slew of memorable leads at us along with a bunch of catchy riffs. It’s a very strong start to the album and perfectly showcases what this band is all about: crushing riffs and dizzying leads. Following that “The Sins of a Sadistic Priest” further ramps up the speed, barely giving us any breathing room to relax, with its driving double bass on the chorus being a particular highlight.

The middle of the album continues in a similar fashion and keeps the quality up, with tracks like “Suffer Forever” and “Putrid Rot” making for some of the best parts of the album. The former opens with an acoustic guitar riff that slowly melds with a bludgeoning mid-paced riff, and then the band shifts into full gear and starts beating us over the head with riff after riff. A notable section here is the stop-start riff that appears at 2:31, underpinning the lead guitar and Brandon Boling’s vocals, which are very reminiscent of Frank Mullen’s work with Suffocation, albeit a bit clearer and more well enunciated. “Putrid Rot” on the other hand is somewhat slower, but in no way lacking in intensity, giving us some more insane leads and even a catchy vocal chorus, which isn’t something one encounters often in brutal death metal. 

The latter half has a very slight dip in quality, with tracks like “The Hierophant” and “Apocrypha” being rather forgettable, barring the piano keys used to accentuate parts of the former, while the latter is just too short to leave much of an impact. Between those tracks though we have 2 heavy hitters, those being “Corpse Made Halo” and “Ophidian Desecration”, both of which give us more catchy riffs, with “Corpse Made Halo” having a great buildup to a surprisingly melodic solo at 2:27. The closer, “Ophidian Desecration” is a nice track to end things on, with notable sections being the alternating riffs that start at 2:00 and the leads that close off the album, supported by a very meaty riff that’s with double bass underneath. 

Now you might’ve noticed that I haven’t brought up slams during this review, which is admittedly odd for a brutal death metal album. It’s primarily because the band leans more towards the technical end of the spectrum and doesn’t really use them, opting instead for the fantastic leads I’ve mentioned multiple times already. So, if you’re looking for beefy slams and nothing else you will most likely be disappointed by what’s on offer. 

 The production here is decent, as while being all around quite good, there are some things that bothered me about it. The guitars are quite thick and have a nice tone, which is especially apparent when the band slows down, and the bass guitar, which is arguably what I love hearing the most in metal, is buried in the mix, though its presence can be felt, supplementing the riffs. The vocals are front and centre in the mix, though they don’t overpower the rest of the instruments, which is the norm for most death metal. Now the drums are a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand they’re mixed dynamically, with the snare and the double bass taking centre stage on some songs and really help make those moments hit a bit harder (see “Suffer Forever”). On the other hand, the cymbals fluctuate between being audible and barely being present in the song (see 0:55 of “Sermon of Evil”, all that’s heard is a very faint clicking), which is weird to say the least. 

Headless Demon Angel is the work of a band that has full knowledge of what they want to create, and has the required skills to successfully pull it off. It’s a genuine shame that it went under the radar at the time of release, as it’s a well put together album that deserves more attention than what it originally received. What’s also disappointing is that we probably won’t see another release from these guys, since they don’t seem to have done anything else for the past 4 years. It’d be nice to be proven wrong.

Highlights: Headless Demon Angel, Suffer Forever, Putrid Rot, Corpse Made Halo