Sometimes blackened death metal feels like the only music that matters. No, more than that—it feels like the only thing that matters. The pummeling drums, the frenzied riffs, the scathing vocals—it just makes me want to put my fist through a wall, rip off my shirt, and go skullfuck the nearest quadruped. When the need arises to rally my inner Z-beast, Angelcorpse often does the trick, but they’re not the only game in town. English quartet Spearhead feature a remarkably similar sound, with a tight, blasty approach that made 2007’s Decrowning the Irenarch feel utterly unfuckwithable. Though 2011’s Theomachia was a slight step down, it nonetheless still satisfied my (bestial) warlust. After seven years of mysterious silence, Spearhead have finally returned to the battlefront with fourth full-length Pacifism Is Cowardice.
And just like before, the band essentially sound like England’s answer to Angelcorpse. All the hallmarks are here: relentless blastbeats, churning riffs, manic vocals, and lyrics about philosophy and warfare. Much like their primary influence, the riffing alternates between scalding tremolos and crunchy chords, with everything generally operating at the speed of “fast as fuck.” Admittedly, Spearhead’s riffs don’t have quite the same writhing chaos as Gene Palubicki’s, but that’s a high standard to reach. Likewise, bassist and vocalist “Barghest” has opted for a deeper and more bellowing rasp this time around, an approach that makes things feel more bestial and draws them further away from ‘corpse’s shadow.
Though it’s a familiar sound, the band execute it well. Early highlight “Ajativada” is perhaps the best example, with an ascending tremolo line that comes quite close to evoking the glory of Palubicki. Along with “A Monarch to Rats,” this track also shows the band incorporating a bit of Polish death metal brutality via some Vader-esque war chugs. Other songs feature their own deviations from the relentless blasting. “Violence Revolt Ruination” works in an atmospheric ending of distant squealing leads, which—combined with the noisy ambience of interlude “Hyperanthropos”—offer a welcome respite from the onslaught. “Wolves of the Krypteia, We” manages to overcome its awkwardly worded title with a slow and foreboding opening that evokes Tucker-era Morbid Angel, before incorporating a surprising melodic midsection that’s embellished by a distant, regal choir.
Finishing with a vicious stomp that accelerates back into blasting, “Wolves” is a thoroughly well-written song, though that’s not the case for every track here. Songs like first proper track “Of Sun and Steel” suffer from a bit of “riff salad syndrome,” where a lot of ideas are thrown at the listener without regard for how they work together as a composition. Many of these 12 tracks repeat prior riffs just often enough to achieve baseline coherency, which can make things a bit head-spinning. Factor in a 42-minute runtime and the fact that the riffing isn’t always the most memorable, and my interest starts to wane by the album’s final third. For a further quibble, the bellowing vocals make Pacifism lack the immediacy of prior works. Fortunately, the riffing is consistently energetic and of good quality. Likewise, the production is solid, with drums that sound natural and untriggered. The vocals are tinged with a nice hint of reverb, while the guitar tone is smoldering and sounds like steel heated to a few degrees below its melting point.
It all makes for an album that, for all its flaws, is still a furious and pummeling good time. With plenty of fiery riffs and scorching solos crammed into almost every song, Spearhead possess a fierce, infectious energy that makes me want to immediately subscribe to whatever philosophy they’re preaching.1 At the same time, the use of slower and more melodic passages show the band understand the limits of their style and go a long way in keeping things engaging. In the future, more refined songwriting and memorability will certainly help. For now, Pacifism Is Cowardice stands as a call to arms for all blackened death warmongers out there, sure to please fans of Angelcorpse, Impiety, and their ilk.