by Niklas Göransson
Death metal purity from the British Isles – an uncompromising call to action. Spearhead guitarist Invictus discusses the musical pillars and martial philosophies behind their new album, “Pacifism is Cowardice”
– The writing process for “Pacifism is Cowardice” commenced a few months after the release of “Theomachia” (2011), which means that our new record has been approximately seven years in the making. There was no specific aim or ambition with it – we simply allowed our natural instincts to dictate the direction of each riff and song, flowing and evolving in an organic manner yet adhering to the general principles which have now become familiar to the SPEARHEAD sound.
Listening to the album is somewhat nostalgic at times – while there’s certainly no dearth of war metal bands around these days, the vast majority focus primarily on visceral malice over this kind of triumphant and heroic stoicism. I’m reminded more of the steely discipline of ANGELCORPSE and MORBID ANGEL’s “Domination” than the unhinged madness of BLASPHEMY or BEHERIT.
– Despite what the band name, lyrical content and general aesthetic might suggest, we don’t really identify as ’war metal’. On a personal level, I enjoy many bands you might consider falling into that category but this has no bearing on SPEARHEAD. Your observations in terms of obvious points of musical reference are indeed accurate – our music has always been more firmly rooted in the frenzied, relentless and uncompromising death metal of CENTURIAN, old MORBID ANGEL, ANGELCORPSE, AZARATH, old SINISTER, IMMOLATION, old KRISIUN, ABHORRENCE from Brazil, and the likes. Having said that, our influences are many and there’s been an ever-present black and thrash element to our overall sound. And, in particular, bands such as ABSU, MARDUK, and SADUS have clearly left their mark. I think it’s this blend of influences injected with our own character and musical ambition that characterises SPEARHEAD and sets us apart from other bands in the genre. But it’s interesting you find the album nostalgic; I suppose we’re tapping into a strand of ancient death metal that’s generally fallen out of favour in recent years. We’ve always just made the music we like and want to hear, without any regard for trends or what’s happening in the wider ’scene’. SPEARHEAD has been in existence for the best part of fifteen years now and we’ve never wavered from the musical path and firm foundations that were set back when the band was initially conceived.
Since the last album, SPEARHEAD have recruited new lead guitarist Praetorian as well as drummer Typhon. This time around, they made the conscious decision of tracking the instruments by themselves rather than recording everything in a professional studio.
– The idea was to eliminate time-pressure and facilitate a more relaxed recording process, over which we’d have complete control, an approach that turned out both beneficial and detrimental. While the goal of completing the album at our own pace was achieved, without a set deadline we certainly spent more time recording than initially planned. This protracted process was frustrating at times but, ultimately, the album probably benefitted from its extended gestation period. Once we’d agreed on terms with Invictus Productions, matters started moving forward at a more accelerated pace. We booked time in Priory Recording Studios where Greg Chandler (ESOTERIC) engineered, mixed, and mastered the tracks. Under Greg’s diligent supervision, we also recorded some additional lead guitars and added a few finishing touches to the album. The end product far exceeded all our expectations and I can say that we’re all very pleased with the outcome.
What’s that orchestral sound in “Hyperanthropos” which reminds me of “Dark Medieval Times” in the best way possible?
– That interlude is a martial industrial piece composed and arranged by Cmdr. Barghest and myself during the recording of an album demo version. It is an amalgamation of samples including, if I recall correctly, excerpts from a Wagner composition amongst other things. This was then re-arranged, sequenced and augmented with some additional industrial noise and synthesiser work added in the studio. Instrumental interludes have become something of a SPEARHEAD tradition ever since “Decrowning the Irenarch” (2007), as has the album intro and closing “Aftermath”. We feel the piece works well to divide the album into two movements and on the LP version it punctuates the end of side A. Outside of the metal genre we also listen to various industrial, martial, noise and neo-folk projects, and I suppose “Hyperanthropos” is our homage to the likes of TRIARII, BRIGHTER DEATH NOW, KARJALAN SISSIT, ARDITI, GENOCIDE ORGAN, IN SLAUGHTER NATIVES, and so on.
“Decrowning the Irenarch” and “Theomachia” both contained detailed forewords elaborating on the thematic content of their lyrics. This is not the case with “Pacifism Is Cowardice”, which Invictus explains as the band having felt neither the need nor compulsion to provide such insight.
– These days we generally avoid being drawn into detailed philosophical discussions about our lyrics. Many bands now attempt to sound overly intellectual in interviews, something which mostly comes across as self-aggrandising, superficial, and trite. The lyrics and themes espoused in the new album stand on their own and individuals can read into them what they want. However, for the purpose of this extended discussion we can briefly cover some of the lyrical content – should anyone be interested. Thematically and lyrically, this album could to some extent be said to follow its predecessors but also explores new territory and is certainly more direct and vitriolic in its overall approach and delivery. The first song, “Of Sun and Steel”, is loosely inspired by Yukio Mishima, who committed ritual suicide after staging a coup.
Yukio Mishima was a Japanese poet, author, actor, and film director. Perhaps his most important literary work is the 1968 autobiographical essay Sun and Steel, in which he muses over man’s relationship to his corporeal vessel. Mishima – who was a devotee of bushido, the code of the samurai – scoffed at modern intellectuals whose sole focus was on the mind and none on their bodies. After taking up weight lifting and martial arts in 1955, Mishima maintained a strict three-sessions-per-week regiment which ran without disruption for the final fifteen years of his life. An ardent nationalist, Mishima gathered young students who were drawn to martial principles and founded a militia called Tatenokai, or ‘shield society’, sworn to protect the Emperor of Japan. It should be noted that in accordance to Mishima’s understanding, the Emperor is regarded more as an abstract essence of the nation rather than its figurehead. For instance, in his book Eirei no Koe, ‘Voices of the Heroic Dead’, he harshly condemned Emperor Hirohito for having renounced his claims of divinity following the Second World War, on the basis of all the millions of Japanese soldiers who died fighting for their imperial ‘living god’ having died in vain. In 1970, Mishima along with four other Tatenokai members seized control of a Japanese military base by taking its commander hostage, hoping to inspire a coup d’état and restore the Emperor’s pre-war authority. Failing to rouse much interest, Mishima took his own life by seppuku, Japanese ritual suicide. The attempted uprising has since become known in Japan as the “Mishima Incident”.
– The song is essentially about picking the hour of one’s own death and taking charge of life from start to finish. A similar philosophy, in terms of choosing the right time to die, was also propagated by Nietzsche. On a superficial level, “A Monarch to Rats” is about what many would probably call ‘political correctness’ but it’s really more about consensus speech, or what people believe others want to hear, in order to be accepted as part of the group; basic evolutionary biology. In order to survive as social animals, people conform to group behaviour. Talking how others talk and looking around to ensure one’s words are landing well – that’s the easy option. This is also high cowardice. And when the group one is conforming to is diseased, even if they happen to be larger in number, it would seem better for survival to not engage in the behaviour or speech of that group. The coming generations have no internal stability or sense of self and so they depend wholly on the group for their worth. History teaches us how dangerous this is.
“Ajativada” sounds as if it’s describing the nuclear bomb as some kind of divine sacrament?
– “Ajativada” is dedicated to the glorious children of Oppenheimer, yes. “Violence Revolt Ruination” is about living a life of conflict and war – to dwell in complete peace and follow only those who cannot fight is setting oneself up for conquest and ruination. “Wolves of the Krypteia, We” is, unsurprisingly, about the Spartan state institution known as Krypteia. The other songs contain themes the majority would probably find unpalatable, but that’s the joy of speculation… I would refer the reader to the ’proclamation’ in the album inlay, which probably sets out all that needs to be said at this point.
Warfare and conflict are clearly central themes of SPEARHEAD’s, so I’m wondering if this is some manner of history-buff fascination or if the appeal is more in line with war as a force of large-scale transformation.
– War and strife are sometimes necessary, both in a physical and spiritual sense. While there’s certainly an historical interest in struggle and warfare through the ages, our philosophy goes beyond this. Taking action is crucial for bettering one’s life on both a personal and national level. This does not always necessarily equate to bloodshed – although sometimes it will. It can also mean taking action to change aspects of one’s life, regardless of the repercussions and confrontations that might result. Hence the title, “Pacifism is Cowardice”. Above all, war and the concept of struggle is, at its highest level, about self-awareness and introspection.
Do you have any ambitions to tour for this album?
– The reality is that the band members are dispersed across the country and we all have busy private lives, which inevitably interferes with our availability to play live. We’re generally open to offers for live appearances but it’s certainly not our ambition to become a nonstop touring band and we prefer to be selective in terms of which events we participate in. SPEARHEAD has never been a particularly active live band. Having said that, we’ve played a fair number of individual shows and festivals as well as a couple of tours over the years. Highlights were touring Europe with IMPIETY in 2008 and then the US with URGEHAL in 2009, along with appearances at Inferno and SWR Barroselas festivals. In terms of the aforementioned tours, it was a privilege to share the stage and spend time with these bands – both of whom we hold in high regard. In retrospect, the Endurance of Iron and Blasphemy tour with URGEHAL was especially important to us given the tragic loss of their guitarist, Trondr Nefas, just three years later. Traversing the USA from east to west was an experience in itself, notwithstanding the musical mayhem ensuing along the way. Prior to that, the Bestial Domination tour with IMPIETY was equally critical to the growth of the band, as it was our first-ever tour and one which had its share of logistical challenges to overcome. Nevertheless, I would say that overall it was a success and musically the two bands complemented each other very well; to this day IMPIETY remains a firm favourite. More recently we’ve mainly played one-off shows in the UK. We’d certainly like to play the new songs live and would be interested in touring to promote the new album if the right opportunity presented itself. In terms of what one can expect from a live SPEARHEAD performance: pure, savage death metal without any gimmicks or pretence.
One rarely hears much from the British underground black and death metal scene which, as far as I can remember, has pretty much been the case ever since the mid-90s. I’m wondering what Invictus’ thoughts are and whether he regards SPEARHEAD as part of it.
– Looking more generally at the UK extreme metal scene, our view would probably be a mixed one. Beyond the obvious well-known classic acts there are only a handful of bands that made a real impact or released anything noteworthy. There’s a fairly small underground scene with some decent bands but, unfortunately, there’s also a lot of superfluous and derivative music being made here. In my opinion, the strongest scenes at present are in Poland and South America – compared to those examples, the UK is very weak. There are, of course, notable exceptions and I could provide a list of recommended British bands here but I expect most people reading this will already be familiar with those anyone really needs to be aware of. I will however take this opportunity to press for wider recognition of the defunct yet essential band NECROSANCT; in particular their 1993 album, “Desolate”. For me this is the best death metal release to come out of this country and will never be topped. As stated earlier, we do not feel part of any particular ‘scene’ or ‘movement’, SPEARHEAD has always stood apart and followed its own course.