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When Flipper bassist Will Shatter died of a heroin overdose in 1987, the underground San Francisco foursome called it quits. It was an untimely demise for a band that, with two live and two studio albums, had earned critical praise from the likes of the Village Voice and New York Times.

Flipper made its greatest impact, though, as a precursor to the current grunge sound heard in such bands as Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Nirvana. The band was an early proponent of taking the frenetic pace of punk and grinding it down to a crawl with loud, slow distorted guitars and a heavy beat.

Not everyone embraced the style when it first came around. Fortunately, Flipper’s hardcore genius appealed to the ears of one New York University student, a fan who caught their gigs in the early ’80s at N.Y. club CBGB’s. The student was Rick Rubin, later to become head of Def American Records.

When the band decided to reform two years ago with new bassist John Dougherty , their first call was to Rubin.

“After a year of sending demos,” says drummer Steve DePace, who teams with guitarist Ted Falconi and singer Bruce Loose, “Rick called one day and said, ‘I’ve heard enough. Why don’t you guys get a lawyer and we’ll make a record.’ ”

DePace admits making “American Grafishy” (which ships Jan. 12) was one of the hardest things Flipper has ever done, harder than getting back on the road for its first extended jaunt after retirement, a national tour with GWAR that ended early in December.

“We knew this was the big break, the big album for Rick Rubin,” DePace says. “There was a lot of tension.”

Besides the new release, Def American plans to reissue Flipper’s benchmark first album, 1981’s “Generic Flipper,” which boasts such band classics as “Life, ” the latter haunted by Shatter’s unwittingly foreboding lyric: “The only thing worth living for is life.”