(DGR reviews the new album by Pig Destroyer, which was released on September 7th by Relapse Records.)
It’s been five years since it happened, but when it comes to Pig Destroyer, this article here is always going to elicit a small chuckle out of me. Not because of the lineup shift or anything of that magnitude, but the way the news posting plays out. It almost reads as if the addition of a bassist to the lineup was an absolutely massive thing for these noise-grind stalwarts. It may very well have been, but the idea that the addition of a low-end to the band — something we commonly take for granted as part of a traditional metal lineup — was so important that Pig Destroyer issued a press release to announce it (again, entirely inferred and not the purpose of the article) is so off-kilter that I can’t help but smile a bit.
But, if you had to pick anything to describe the chaotic-ping-ponging around the metal genre-sphere that Pig Destroyer‘s overall discography has represented, Off-Kilter may just work for what the band have made their bread and butter — flying right on the edge of grind, and pushing at its boundaries. In fact, it has often felt like every single Pig Destroyer release has been a soft re-launch of the band, as they’ve played with drone, doom, adding various electronic samples to the overall sound, all of it roughly translating to never quite knowing what you’ll get upon first picking up a new release, outside of the band’s trademark speed.
Which is why the group’s newest release Head Cage proves to be interesting, if not polarizing, in part because it represents the hardest right turn the band have made yet — like a car screeching against the outside railings of a highway off-ramp — taking on a groove-heavy sound in the midst of all that grind, resulting in an album that is overall far less chaotic than what they’ve put forth before, and also a hell of a lot of shameless “fun”.
Maybe it’s that sense of never being sure what Pig Destroyer are going to throw at us which made it easier to swallow that a pretty good chunk of Head Cage‘s body mass consists of mid-tempo groovers. It seems like Pig Destroyer found themselves in a dissection mode: They seemingly decided to bisect their genre descriptor into its halves — grind and -core — and then focused heavily on the second half. A multitude of guest vocalists (often feeling like a “six degrees of” game) appearing throughout Head Cage make the album feel like a gang-shouted proper hardcore release at times, infusing the album with a sneering and cocksure “fuck you” sensibility that makes it difficult to challenge each time the band decide to kick out another head-bobbing rhythm section instead of giving themselves over into full-blown chaos.
Despite that, Head Cage does fling itself through a multitude of different styles, and does so incredibly fast, so fast that you might even forget it has a seven-minute closing track; for every three-minute (or so) bouncing track, there’s a couple of one-minute to two-minute blasters just to keep things moving along. It makes for a remarkably quick half-hour.
Put differently, Head Cage flits about like a moth caught in a crystal chandelier, crashing headlong into each light source and then quickly leaping in the direction of the next one — which is how you have an opening that can segue from the crashing and violent “Dark Train” into the angular groove and dual-vocalist tag-team of the first song revealed from this disc, “Army Of Cops”.
It’s tempting to characterize “Army Of Cops” as something of a blueprint that Pig Destroyer follow throughout Head Cage, but the half of the album that is so intently focused on the near-subconscious headbang factor is so starkly different from the other that the pacing of the disc feels like an entirely different album that’s being constantly interrupted by fits of minute-long tracks that have vocalist J.R. howling over whatever chaos gets sent his way.
“Circle River”, for instance, has a pretty danceable punk d-beat-esque two-step riff for most of its time, so its almost impossible not to headbang along to that one, especially as it comes earlier in the album while Pig Destroyer are still bouncing around different genres. The tracks bookending the slower beasts of “Concrete Beast” and “The Adventures Of Jason and JR”, i.e., “Terminal Itch” and “Mt. Skull”, are particularly effective. The blast of “Terminal Itch” comes in after the first five songs on Head Cage, which are five very different tracks, so the sudden drop into a blasting fury is welcome by that point before the band drop us back into the slower grinder. “Mt. Skull” and its crowd shouts come after “The Adventures of Jason and JR”; it starts slowly and becomes another dual-vocalist duel and has one of the more catchy near-two-step moments to close it out and spill into the aforementioned ‘Mt. Skull’.
Of particular note — likely due to the album’s more low-end-focused production — is that it is a lot of fun listening to drummer Adam Jarvis behind the kit this time. He often changes gears from his battering-ram routine so as to latch on to whatever angular/headbanging riffs come his way. So often he’s in the role of pile-driver on stage, towering over whatever kit is present that night and then proceeding to drive the poor thing a foot into the stage by the time his set wraps up. On Head Cage, he still hits hard and comes through clearly in a dense production that has so many elements battling for the top, the booming presence of the rhythm section amplifying the feeling that rocking out with reckless abandon is the order of the day on this one, rather than the whirling maelstrom of a circle-pit.
Moments like the opening of ‘The Last Song’ — which feels like lyrical closure (sarcastic or hopeful, depending on what you read into it and the way the song sounds — it could prove to be one hell of a personality litmus test) to a very long love-lorn arc that has colored a wide swath of Pig Destroyer lyrics — are fun to listen to as the Jarvis crew try to hang on to that bizarre swinging mess with electronics layered over it.
Quantifying “fun” — the word I mentioned in the opening segment of this writing — is difficult when it comes to Head Cage. It’s understandable that people could be thrown for a loop the first time they listen to it, but it feels like something the band have wanted to do for a long time.
The in-between album experimentation, as well as their generally sound-shifting course away from a hefty branch of grind into something more chaos-fueled as the band have pushed at the edges of their genre box to see what would bend and break, suggest that the Pig Destroyer crew were going to toss everyone a curveball. Thus, we wind up with a Pig Destroyer album that could genuinely be described as one packed with guitar riffs and heavy rhythm segments, combining into angular grooves that seem to find their way into the listener’s head and cause headbanging anyway.
A good chunk of that impact is because the music is recognizable. Pig Destroyer pull from some genre hallmarks with certain segments of their songs, but it’s not so much that they do so, it’s that they do it so well, which is a huge plus. Somewhere in the six years between Book Burner and Head Cage the band decided to have a little fun with their music, and twist and contort different sections until they still became recognizably Pig Destroyer. There’s a sense of adventure to this album that is almost infectious.
And in some ways, half the fun of listening to Head Cage is the pleasure of discovering what the hell Pig Destroyer decided they were going to throw out next. They add a layer of noise and slop to it, and it becomes its own ugly beast of a frecord, charming in its own way. That constant atmosphere of hearing the band bend and break everything, while generally rocking out over the top of it, is what makes Head Cage “fun”, along with the realization that it’s an entirely different sort of monster than people were expecting.