Into the Obscure: Sacriphyx – The Western Front

We all have our dirty metal secrets that we selfishly keep to ourselves, only sharing with a select few close to us. Or alternatively, we incessantly talk up underground gems and spread the gospel to anyone that will listen, as we cherish our slice of underground cred. Into the Obscure aims to right the wrongs and unearth the artists/albums that for whatever unjust reason didn’t get the exposure, appreciation or credit they sorely deserved the first time round.

Aussie war machine Sacriphyx kicked around in the underground releasing demos, splits and a compilation of material before arriving at their as yet only full-length album, 2013’s formidable, The Western Front. While writing the guts of this piece on April 25th, it is Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand, an annual remembrance day to reflect on the Gallipoli battle in World War I, a brutal battle between the ANZACS (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) and Turkish forces that resulted in a stalemate and heavy loss of lives. Today, Anzac Day remains a significant day of remembrance to honor the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who served and died in the Gallipoli Campaign, and all military personnel killed serving their country in the years since. It is a very special day on the Australian and New Zealand calendar each year and inspired me to dig up this underrated gem of an album from a band that deserve their dues and hail from my former hometown, and National’s Capital, Canberra.

Sacriphyx use grim war tales and historical events as lyrical inspiration to guide their bludgeoning blackened death-doom assault, drawing influences from the undisputed kings of war-themed death metal, Bolt Thrower, while bulldozing their own path of destruction through grim, soulful and deeply emotive metal. Sacriphyx’s musical template pulls on the emotional heartstrings through the triumph, chaos, loss, courage and devastating hardships of the harrowing subject matter. The Western Front has an epic feel and robust construction, as Sacriphyx efficiently power through the muck with beefy riffs, evocative leads, and pummeling percussion, while hoarse, throaty death growls provide a suitably guttural vocal punch. Although the formula is relatively simple and to the point, Sacriphyx shine in the songwriting department and the passion and conviction drips from every well-crafted note.

Ukraine’s excellent 1914 are recent purveyors of supreme blackened war-themed death, expanding into melodic death and symphonic territory on the slickly accomplished 2021 platter, Where Fear and Weapons Meet. Whereas 1914 traverse more sonically advanced and polished terrain, Sacriphyx dispense with bells and whistles, opting for a dirty, rawer sound that offers ample punch and clarity, while boasting an endearing, gritty, DIY-styled aesthetic that works wonders. The Western Front’s opening title track fades in slowly with forlorn melodies, war samples and a trudging, doomy tempo, creating an eloquent and ominous atmosphere that segues into early album standout “‘Buried Behind the Lines.” Opening with a burly, stomping groove, the song excels in its straightforward approach, cemented with ear-catching riffs and killer axework. With the standard set, the talented duo plunder forth with focused intensity and deft dynamic and stylistic shifts. Charred black doomy dirges add immense weight to the predominant death stylings, especially when coupled with striking leads and twisting melodies on the funereal march of “Without a Trace.” Elsewhere, “The Crawling Horror” is an imposing, riff rumbling beast to up the tempo. get the blood pumping.

The compact duration of The Western Front, strong melodic sensibilities, and stomping grooves create a remarkably palatable listening experience that demands return visits, despite the bleak, mournful vibes permeating the album. Credit goes to Anthony Till (guitars, bass, vocals) and drummer Neil Dyer for creating such a full sound amidst taut, lively performances. Till’s exceptional guitar work is a constant highlight, whether dishing up straightforward deathly hammer blows, doomy slogs steeped in melancholy, or showing his technical and melodic wares with more extravagant and soulful flourishes and solos. Honestly, there are few genuine gripes I can aim at The Western Front. For all its charm, the production has its faults, particularly with the presence and clarify of the drums lacking on occasions and sounding a little too muffled. Meanwhile, the acoustic-driven “Damn Passchendaele Ridge” would have served more effectively as an instrumental with the gruff, spoken word delivery a bit heavy-handed against the emotive acoustic melodies. Ideally, the album should be accompanied with a lyric sheet, as the full scope of the storytelling is lost in translation. Otherwise, the material stands up to scrutiny and kicks all kinds of arse.

Sacriphyx have kept a low profile in the years since The Western Front, and it remains unclear whether the duo is still active, or if we will hear new music from them at some eventual stage. However, if The Western Front is the last stand, Sacriphyx went out with an almighty bang. Listeners who gravitate towards the punishing throes of classic Bolt Thrower looking for fresh inspiration via an underappreciated, battle-hardened slab of supreme war-themed death, would be wise to explore the grim, mud-caked trenches of The Western Front.

« »