Sacriphyx – Tales of Honor, Songs of War

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One can never predict when an album will reach inside and pull something back out, but when that album comes along, you find yourself returning to it again and again, for even the most die-hard music junkie (if luck prevails) will only discover one, possibly two albums a year that settle upon his or her permanent playlist. For me, The Western Front by Sacriphyx is one such record, having stumbled upon it in the Bindrune distro last year. With its WWI theme and cover, I expected something entertaining, but what I found within dug itself deeper than the trench warfare of its focus. The Western Front‘s collage of tasteful extreme Metal sounds brings you amidst the men of war (men like us all: varying mixtures of heroism and cowardice, bravery and fear) and has you commune with them, through music, in both triumph and loss. Worm Gear reached out to Australians Anthony Till (vocals, guitars, bass) and Neil Dyer (drums, lyrics) to find out more about the motivations and machinations behind this decidedly raw and underproduced, yet very soulful Black/Death/Thrash/Doom release.

Hails to you and yours south of the Equator!  Congratulations on the release of your first full-length, The Western Front, a powerful and unique take on Metal art.  Leading up to the Sacriphyx Lone Pine demo, yourself and drummer Neil Dyer had (and still have) extensive contributions to the Australian Metal scene, with your work in the great Misery’s Omen and Neil’s time in the equally killer Innsmouth.  Can you take us back to the time when your paths first crossed in the scene and your mutual decision to form Sacriphyx?  What did you and Neil seek to accomplish apart from your previous work?

Anthony–G’day mate, Neil and I have been mates for ages and an evening on the turps a while back we drunkenly discussed wanting to do something a little different both musically and lyrically to what we had been doing up to that point.  Not too long after I had put some riffs together and we had a few jam sessions and soon enough the Lone Pine demo came into being. I dunno mate, we never set ourselves any specific goals aside from writing music and lyrics that had feel and to one day see it pressed (and hear it) on vinyl.

Death and War have been, and will likely always remain subject mainstays of Metal.  However, most bands explore these broadly, and the lyrical power of these topics gets diluted as a result.  Sacriphyx has intentionally narrowed its scope to deal with War and Death from both first and third perspectives of Australian infantrymen during WWI, as well as the documentation of their actual battles and events, bringing the listener closer to the harrowing and sometimes glory-filled experiences described.  Did an interest in your homeland’s history, a desire to honor its fallen heroes, or something else inspire you to step outside the War and Death-lyrical generalizations of most other bands? 

Neil – G’day, I’ve always had a keen interest in Australian history and have always found WW1 a very fascinating subject. When Anthony and I decided to start this band I asked if he would mind if I wrote lyrics about the Australian effort. Well I hadn’t written lyrics before so really had no idea how to craft it all together. What I didn’t want was the old hey! We came, we killed, and we are mighty. That rubbish isn’t history. I just try to put into words real history and emotion. I seriously didn’t think or care if anyone would enjoy the lyrics as I did it for myself and Anthony. I seriously thought because of the subject matter the band would not appeal to an audience outside of Australia. I’m just your average bloke who wanted a creative output for something that I hold dear.

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The music of Sacriphyx incorporates a strong early Greek Black Metal influence, a stylistic distinction apart from that of your and Neil’s other active projects.  Why do you think this choice communicates the Sacriphyx WWI aesthetic so effectively?  What about the GBM spectrum of sound motivated you to employ this approach in some of your riff writing?

Anthony – The motivation for the riffs I write goes a little deeper than just the Greek Black Metal genre, looking at that scene, for me it’s pretty clear that heavy metal and rock are huge influences. So whilst we share palm muting and some basic beats, I don’t see our influence solely coming from the Greeks. Judas Priest, Warlord, Metallica, Rush, Manowar, Black Sabbath, Witchfinder General, Malmsteen, WASP, Loudness, Iron Maiden, Arghoslent, Twisted Sister, Deep Purple, Motely Crue, Van Halen etc are all enormous  influences for me personally. I think the reason our music works is that we focus on writing strong songs that don’t have 50 riffs per song or filler. I get the feeling that the nostalgia with  the Greek scene and some very basic sounds that we have in common lead people to immediately label us as GBM, because it’s easy. Don’t get me wrong, the early Greek scene was incredible and I don’t put us on the same page, we’re just younger musicians writing music which draws some influence from them and others. You’re always going to use older music as the basis for comparison when listening to newer songs/bands.

An unafraid attention to melodicism permeates the Sacriphyx sound, especially in the leadwork and slower moments throughout the bands discography.  Performed within the confines of underground Metal,  such melody can, in lesser hands, come off as trite.  With Sacriphyx,  however, its inclusion never feels forced or cliched, due in part, perhaps, to the band’s pointedly lo-fi/analog production values keeping things underground. What role does melodicism and its counterpoint of production choice play in the evocation of Sacriphyx’s aural atmosphere?

Anthony – For me personally melody is important and as such I like to work it into the songs where it adds that ‘something’ to the overall track. How the production plays into this is interesting. Up until the album, I recorded everything at home in my studio, in pretty barbaric conditions. Only when we got to the album did we record the drums in a high end studio and I completed the recording and mixing in my studio. I had intended to record the majority of the guitars in the studio, but the engineer was a dickhead and also incapable of pulling a good guitar sound. Drums are such an instrument where this approach is worth the cost and time, room acoustics play a huge role in obtaining (what I call) a good drum sound. I am not sure that we are pursuiting a lo-fi sound as on purpose, in fact we recorded in a very high end studio and a lot of it on digital, it’s just how we sound. My rig is just a guitar into a valve amp and Neil’s drum setup is rather simple also, we’re not big into complicated setups. Our sound is not modern, so our recording captures this I believe.

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A Thrash riff here, a mid-tempo blast beat there, and the beneath-the-nails grit of a war-weary soldier is embodied within any given Sacriphyx track.  In league with the aforementioned production, do you feel your music aligns better with the ugly reality of human conflict than the often ‘happier’ sounding, big-budget recordings of others?  What war-focused album or albums ‘get it right’ in  your opinion, and which album(s) fail?

Anthony – Quite often the riffs are written without having read the lyrics, there’s no one way, in terms of the approach in how I write the riffs or we build the songs. I don’t think it’s possible for me to write happy tunes, it’s not something I can do easily and nor would it suit our vision. Our subject matter is varied from proud triumphs to utter desolation, hence I guess this is why our music is also quite varied. I can’t really think of too many ‘war’ inspired albums that I like, as for me typical ‘warmetal’ is boring and uninteresting. I do however like Arghoslent, Bolt Thrower and the Axis of Advance album ‘Strike’.

Examples of your developed aptitude for lead phrasing – also a key element of Trouble’s classic Doom Metal and Judas Priest’s classic Heavy Metal – abound amongst Sacriphyx’s songs.  I strongly believe that the phrasing of a guitar solo correlates directly to its emotional impact and memorability.  Does phrasing linger in your mind when constructing a lead? Does Sacriphyx’s subject matter have any impact on what ultimately results as a lead take in the studio?

Anthony – In composing and performing Sacriphyx solos, I spend a great deal of time trying to ensure that the lead suits the feel of the song or section. Phrasing is definitely something I spend time on, as it’s these parts which capture the listener, not 100 notes played in 64ths. The subject matter definitely plays a part in inspiring emotive expression when playing.

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You also handle the bass guitar tracking in the band.  I enjoy not only the way the bass is presented on Sacriphyx recordings (audible but not overpowering), but also the attention paid to its execution – no showboating, but not just simple root notes tethering it to the guitar either (a great example of this is found on ‘Victory of Withdrawal’).  As an instrument often downplayed in Black Metal but often championed in Doom, how did you strike the balance for its presentation in your music?

Anthony – These days I think I spend more time on the bass guitar than the rhythm guitars, which is mainly due to my trying to ensure the bass parts are played as how a real bassist would play them, not a guitarist just following the root notes, ie that it is working between the guitars and bass drum. I am a fan of catchy and simplistic bass playing where it works and also letting a more technical side of it come into the picture. It also helps that I’ve been working with The Great Righteous Destroyer from StarGazer for over 10 years now. He’s had a huge impact on how I view, play, record and mix bass in recordings! The best bands have good bassists, that’s why Cliff Burton era Metallica always kills early Megadeth.

Speaking of Doom, The Western Front contains its share of doom-y moments.  Was the inclusion of this style natural for you, given your long tenure in Misery’s Omen?  Are there any obscure Doom bands that you’d like to point our readers toward?

Anthony – Including doomy passages or tracks has always been something we just did, it was never a thought “hey we need to have a doomy riff/song”, it just happened that way.. Doom is a very emotive form of music and I believe becomes evern more powerful when communicating Neil’s lyrics over the music.

I don’t have any obscure bands for the readers unfortunately, but I do recommend checking out Chet Atkins.

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As you and Neil both share time in other active groups, where does Sacriphyx fall for both of you in terms of importance; do you consider the band to be a side project that has an end point, or the primary outlet for your art that will continue?

Anthony – Sacriphyx happens when we have time to do it or have a need to do something. It’s definitely our band and we do not consider this a project.  As we do not play live (yet) this means we are able to focus on our different bands without Sacriphyx suffering. Perhaps Sacriphyx has an end date, but I don’t see it yet, we have a number of ideas and songs yet to be written and recorded. That said, all things will pass.

In a world where show attendance appears to be less important than the release of an album, giving artists more time to compose instead of embarking upon a tour (and all the preparation and expense that entails), are distinction such as ‘primary project’/’side project’ even worth making any longer?

Anthony – Ah I dunno mate, I reckon you might be right. I’ve never used the term project. If I do something musically then it’s a band. Who cares if it does or doesn’t play live, I don’t see anyone calling Summoning a project?!

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The environment through which music reaches the outside world continues to evolve, and as a result, the artist/label relationship continues to strain, except for, it seems, the relationships between smaller labels and artists who require complete autonomy.  In this volatile evolution of music distribution, how did your relationship with Nuclear War Now come about, and where do you see it going? What impact has the affiliation had on the growth of the band (if any) thus far?

Anthony – Yosuke from NWN is a top bloke and a true professional, Neil posted him a demo and next thing you know he contacted us wanting to release it on 7”. From there our relationship has continued and both Neil and I are very happy working with him. Yosuke has supported us from the beginning, even though we are most likely his worst selling band with the least appeal to the youngens (with our lack of goats and satanic imagery), but he has stuck by us and pushed our releases. After years of working in other bands with less professional labels, it’s very good to work with someone as prompt and efficient as Yosuke. Being signed to NWN has definitely helped us, but really, for the band to grow any more in terms of our fan base we probably need to start playing shows.

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Within the scope of Australian military history, there are many more stories left to be told.  Will Sacriphyx one day reach a point where all that needs to be said on Australia’s involvement in WWI has already been said?  If so, will the band then focus upon other conflicts, or could it move outside of the subject of war altogether?  Or, will Sacriphyx remain the musical poet/historian for the battles of your nation?

Neil – After the first couple of releases I thought I’d just keep writing about Australians in WW1 and move on to WW2. Though I will come back to this subject at some latter time, at the moment I’m slowly forging lyrics about our colonial and convict history. Over the last year or so I’ve been heavily reading material on this subject matter and listening to our early days put into folk music. I guess its just a case of what im reading about during the lead up to the next release and what is capturing my spirit at the time.

But rest assured, Sacriphyx will remain an output for our history. If somehow Sacriphyx can inspire fellow countrymen to pick up a book and delve deeper into our past then that would be something to be proud of. Of course this is not our goal but it would be an added bonus I guess.

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Since Sacriphyx holds the actions of their nation’s military in such high regard, should the time ever come where the need arose to defend the country alongside their countrymen, how would you feel about the idea of that personal sacrifice, and would either of you feel compelled to participate?

Anthony – Mate I have no problems in standing up to defend my country, however as we see in modern times, we’re not really defending anything, rather it seems that invading countries is the go. So, if the time came that we had to fend off invaders from this nation, I will be there in the front lines doing my bit and if that meant giving up my life to defend the Australian way of life so be it. But in the mean time, whilst we’re chasing ghosts in sandy desolate places for reasons that don’t seem overly legitimate, I think I’ll stick to writing music.

We appreciate the time you have taken to answer our questions, Anthony.  As always at Worm Gear, yours is the last word to give, so plug, disparage, or paraphrase at your leisure!

Anthony – Cheers for the interview cobber, it’s been dandy. Neil and I will start work on new material to be released in 2014 and it shouldn’t take us too long. Stay heavy and remember, don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.

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~ by cliftonium on January 29, 2014.

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