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Generally, I like my music to be technical, precise, and complicated. However, there's one genre in particular, that this doesn't apply to. In its very nature, grindcore is simplistic, and it's meant to be. The approach of it is very honest: Be as fast and abrasive as possible in as little time as possible. That's really all Napalm Death and their contemporaries did, and while acts like Discordance Axis and Gridlink have done considerably technical things in the genre, their work still retains that stripped-down aesthetic that is usually expected.
Since their initial inception, Pig Destroyer have been one of the most popular bands of the genre, churning out choice cuts of catchy and quick grinds and riffs. Originally very similar to guitarist Scott Hull's other project Agoraphobic Nosebleed, adhering to the standard grindcore formula, with each release, Pig Destroyer became increasingly more experimental, and increasingly more uncharacteristic of grindcore itself. The production quality gradually improved, and the instrumentation and song structures became increasingly more complicated, almost teetering on the technical death metal side of things. Many fans have welcomed these changes over the years, but others have been much more apprehensive, feeling as though the band has lost the charm and the grindcore flavor that made them appealing in the first place. I'm personally among the former. I like the simple idea of grindcore, but it's an oversaturated genre, especially in recent years. Nearly every release in the genre is a rehash of something that's been done better. Amongst all of this, Pig Destroyer continue to progress, and this progression is no more evident than on Book Burner.
At the time I'm writing this, Book Burner is the most recent full-length release of Pig Destroyer, and thus far, it's the height of their progression. In keeping with previous releases by Pig Destroyer and in the genre overall, the tracks are very short. With the exception of five of the album's nineteen tracks, every track is less than two minutes, with the two shortest tracks both clocking in at forty-two seconds long. Despite the overall brevity of the tracks, each individual track is incredibly well-written and blisteringly technical. The riffing is as fast and screechy as ever, but it's well-structured and never feels random or arbitrary. The percussion is fast and precise, almost in a way that sounds robotic, but there's never a shortage of interesting rhythms going on. JR Hayes continues to belt out his vocal parts like a caged animal, and his voice seems to have gotten deeper and more rugged with age. The album is superbly produced, rendering each instrument crystal clear, making the dissonant harmonies of layered guitar tracks easier to pick up on, as well as giving the precise blast beats and double bass drum sections more of a punch.
With that said, can this album still be categorized as grindcore? Is Book Burner the overproduced work of a band that has become nothing but a group of sellouts and hacks? Some seem to think so, but I'd argue that it's just the opposite. Genre labeling is a great way of figuring out what you, the listener, likes and dislikes, but slapping a label on something, anything, can give you certain expectations. Perhaps, the people who dislike this album judge it based on their own preconceived notions of what grindcore should be, rather than the content itself. Who says a genre should have strict rules? Experimentation and progression are half the fun of the creative process. Moreover, why should a genre like grindcore have such strict rules? It's a genre built almost solely on speed, brutality, and brevity. Even between these three elements, there's still a considerable amount of wiggle room to tread new ground with. I believe this album still fits the already broad criteria of grindcore, while also going beyond the conventions of the genre. It's short and sweet, but it's also challenging. It's catchy, but it's also complex. It's abrasive, but it's also meticulous. It embodies its genre so well, yet it also completely subverts it, and that's what makes it so damn brilliant.
I think I was the only person in the world that wasn’t excited about the prospect of a new Pig Destroyer album. After the grinding greatness that was Prowler in the Yard and the warped masterpiece that was Terrifyer, the band’s fourth album, 2007′s Phantom Limb, was a total letdown. It wasn’t that Phantom Limb was bad by any means, but with its emphasis on longer compositions, breakdowns and grooves, it simply wasn’t what I wanted from a Pig Destroyer album, and as a result it failed to resonate with me. So, when the news broke that the Virginia-based grinders would be unleashing their first batch of new material in half a decade in the form of Book Burner, and the wheels of the hype machine subsequently started to turn, it only served to further lessen my enthusiasm for a long-overdue album from a band that had seemingly “lost it.”
Well folks, Book Burner is upon us and Pig Destroyer most definitely haven’t “lost it.” Instead, they have crafted an album that’s a much more logical progression from Terrifyer and more than satiates my craving for the band’s punk-damaged, riff-gasm inducing grindcore. The thing that makes Pig Destroyer a truly uh, terrifying band to behold is the way they effortlessly mix the cerebral with the savage. Vocalist JR Hayes’ literate lyrics and guitarist/producer/mastermind Scott Hull’s six-string precision are undoubtedly sophisticated, but at the same time the music is beating you down to the piss-soaked ground, turning the proverbial dark alley into a bloody mess, your body into a train-wreck of broken bones and mangled entrails. They have taken their attack in a few new directions on Book Burner, but the changes have in no way, shape or form softened the carnage Pig Destroyer are capable of unleashing. If anything it has only upped the killing capacity, as evidenced by the renewed vigor with which the band blasts their way through the material.
While many in the metal community tend to focus on Hayes’ lyrics and storytelling, I’ve always seen Hull’s guitar-work as Pig Destroyer’s number one selling point. His playing answers the question: “What if Voivod had been a grindcore band?” while at the same time throwing in plenty of surly punk/hardcore bludgeon. The riffs can be dissonant and angular, but they also rock hard as fuck; Hull never places technicality above headbang-ability, and achieving this balance has always been one of his greatest strengths. Another strength is his knack for making even the shortest of songs feel complete; grindcore is more known for a shitload of tracks blasting by in a total blur than anything resembling catchiness, but Hull somehow makes even the most mind-warping of riffs stick to the inside of your skull, even as they smash it to bits.
As for Hayes’ lyrics; Book Burner sees the vocalist moving even further away from the misogynistic poetry that characterized Pig Destroyer’s classic efforts. Sure there’s still a little of that lovelorn night stalker mentality present on tracks like “Baltimore Strangler,” but for the most part Hayes brings quite a diverse range of subject matter to the table, from the tale of scoring hard drugs that is “White Lady” to the scathing political rants of “The Diplomat” and “The American’s Head, to the alcohol-fueled madness of “Iron Drunk.” Hayes seems more interested in reporting on the totality of American society’s pitch-black underbelly here than he does in tormenting the next victim of his twisted affections. There are also several guest vocal turns; Katherine Katz (Agoraphobic Nosebleed, ex-Salome), Jason Netherton (Misery Index, ex-Dying Fetus) and Richard Johnson (Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Drugs of Faith) add yet another facet to Pig Destroyer’s sensory assault with their distinctive growls and screams.
With so much attention given to Hayes and Hull’s contributions, it can sometimes be hard to remember that Pig Destroyer is a four man operation. Unfortunately, Blake Harrison still isn’t quite making enough noise to have a truly significant impact on Book Burner‘s sound, but he does manage to bring some pretty choice samples to the mix, which serve to both enhance the listening experience and bring to mind the good ol’ days of Relapse, when it seemed like almost every band was incorporating killer samples into their recordings (albeit usually as intros or outros). New drummer Adam Jarvis (Misery Index, ex-Criminal Element) doesn’t possess quite the same flair as the departed Brian Harvey, but his playing is almost frightening in its cruel, calculating exactitude. His drum-patterns seem to interlock perfectly with Hull’s guitar-work, imbuing Book Burner with an intensity that’s off the fucking charts.
Come to think of it, “intensity” is probably the word that best describes Book Burner; even when Pig Destroyer slows things down (which is rare), the album seethes with palpable rage. Much like Today is the Day’s criminally underrated Pain is a Warning, it is a vitriolic reaction to the desperation and hopelessness that has gripped the country since the GW Bush years; when one factors in Hayes’ accompanying short story The Atheist, Book Burner paints a harrowing picture not only of our current fucked-up state of affairs politically, socially and mentally, but also of a horrific possible future that goes well beyond worst-case scenario. It is the soundtrack to raging against the crumbling of society, while at the same time being crushed and suffocated under the falling debris.
Overall, Pig Destroyer have unleashed another collection of musical smart-bombs that progresses the band’s sound, style and substance, while at the same time re-emphasizing the battle-tested trademarks that have helped them claw their way to the top of the grindcore heap over the past decade and a half. Whether or not it will be held in the same high esteem as their classic albums is yet to be seen, but one simply cannot deny that Pig Destroyer have made an ultra-caustic comeback with Book Burner.
Originally written for That's How Kids Die.com
The brand of musicians and people attracted to grindcore have rarely been ones to care much about what others think of them. In spite of that, Washington-based grindlings Pig Destroyer have been an object of love and affection from press and fans alike. Whether it’s for their surprisingly technical approach to the style’s trademark fury, their provocative lyrics or beyond-the-call ambitions, Pig Destroyer have long been a go-to act when demonstration is needed to show what grindcore is potentially capable of. With a five year break since their last full-length (2007’s “Phantom Limb), it’s been about bloody time that we have something new from these guys. With consideration that “Prowler in the Yard” and “Phantom Limb” are among my favourite grind records, it’s more than a little disappointing that “Book Burner” is what it is; a fairly monotonous ‘more of the same’ type album that doesn’t seem to offer much more to the band’s career than what came before it. The trademark tech-aggression and ferocity is indeed here, but I’m not sensing the clever songwriting and dynamic that made some of their past work so remarkable.
“Book Burner” follows a proud grind tradition- that is, the breaking up of music into short, bite-sized tracks. The 19 tracks here consist of 32 minutes, although for the sake of approaching “Book Burner” as an album, the entire thing feels like a single, flowing chunk of aggressive music. Each track floods seamlessly into the next, and unless you’re paying heed to the track numbers as they whiz by, it’s conceivable that you won’t even notice a break between songs. For all purposes, this is one of the best things about “Book Burner”; although there are few ‘recurring themes’ to give it the semblance of a half-hour epic, the furious momentum brokers no surrender once it’s fired up. Save for a few ambivalently successful voice samples, there’s little pause in the string of thrashy riffs and punkish rhythms. At little over half an hour, the album ends before the formula thin.
Pig Destroyer’s greatest strength remains their razor-sharp performance, and this is something that hasn’t lost any of its bite during the band’s studio silence. For one, “Book Burner” enjoys one of the angriest-sounding guitar tones I’ve heard in recent memory. It’s got the richness of tone that Meshuggah sports, but it’s filtered through a much more frantic style of riffing. Generally, Scott Hull’s guitar work alternates between a barrage of furious noise and more structured riffs, the likes of which I could imagine hearing in a raw-produced thrash record. The addition of Adam Jarvis is a fitting one; the new drummer brings an appropriate attack of blastbeats and manic permafills that riles up an added whirlwind while keeping the technical edge of the music refined and precise.
Of course, performance standards only take a band so far, especially when the compositions themselves aren’t so interesting. This is certainly the case with “Book Burner”, an album that seems to suffer a tragic case of déjà vu. Although it’s clear that the band intended to create a record that emphasized anger over anything else, “Book Burner” is essentially an artillery barrage of the same few elements, over and over and over again. The handful of tracks that amount to conceivable ‘full song lengths’ (the single “The Diplomat” included) are forgettable on their own, instead blurring facelessly into the rest of the album. Frankly, as much as the initial impact seems to nail exactly what Pig Destroyer were aiming for, it’s the repeated listens that show the album’s flaws. It doesn’t take long for the album’s style to become familiar, but even when it does, there isn’t much of a memorable nature to speak of here.
Pig Destroyer haven’t given up on their core values, but for whatever reason, the album lacks the dynamic and lasting appeal of alot of their earlier material. There is some chaotic fun to be had here, but the shock value is sadly short lasted. The initial burstfire energy may be worth the price of admission alone, but “Book Burner” won’t be one to admire on the long haul.
Without the bad, we wouldn't know the good. Without great music, bad music might seem good, or even great. Its with this train of thought that I think Pig Destroyer exist. With their recent effort, Book Burner, Pig Destroyer have produced such mind boggling mediocrity that it just highlights how amazing their second album Prowler in the Yard is and how awful their current album is.
The decline has been pretty sharp since the band followed up their masterpiece with the overly produced and neutered album Terrifyer. While Terrifyer was anything but good, it retained some strain of style and one or two good riffs from Hull. Phantom Limb stumbled in, with it's flavor of the week cover art, songs of ponderous length, and one too many breakdowns that seemed to put the nail in the coffin for Pig Destroyer. With the announcement of another try at the whole "grindcore thing," people like me gained some hope that Pig Destroyer might be able to tap into whatever they had that made Prowler... so powerful.
With a hefty amount of time to work back to their glory, Pig Destroyer have done an impressive job in making one of the year's most inoffensive, sterile, and extremely marketable releases. Book Burner represents most of what I hate in metal. Sterile production, click track perfect drumming a'la robots like Derek Roddey, inane lyrical matter/song titles and guitar riffs that do nothing for me. Relapse, as well as Century Media, Metal Blade, and others, have made their agenda to revolve around this brand of meat and potatoes metal gussied up in surgical production, lack of character, current fads and marketability. Well Book Burner's no different. Some super lame cover art, dumber name, 3,000 different ways to pre-order the album, a slew of guests, and a new drummer spells ca$h I'm sure, but does it spell good music?No.
"The Diplomat," a 3 minute cookie cutter track presented as the album's first single as well as one of the first glimpses into the album's sound offers nothing new. Spending most of its time hovering around a stock chugga chugga guitar line, midtempo drumming and of course breakdown sections, "The Diplomat" is almost as bad as the video made for it (something I'd rather not talk about here).
As for the rest of the album, it's a sprinkle of what Misery Index's been doing since 2006 with a pinch of Terrifyer, and a bottle or two of Ambien. Jarvis, the new man behind the kit, of course made his name playing as a clock for Misery Index, so the sterility in that department isn't surprising. What is surprising is that the best vocals on the album come from Kat of Agoraphobic Nosebleed and Salome fame on "Eve" and Richard Johnson of Enemy Soil/Drugs of Faith fame on "The Underground Man." Between these two guests, there's more emotion, vitriol, and a pulse than the rest of the band. This is particularly alarming as Pig Destroyer have always operated best in filth, depravity, and twisted thoughts. Yet they've become as harmless as Mastadon or whoever's the big cheese nowadays.
As for the riffs, most lay in between "alright" and "sure." As I write this, the generic-ness surrounding this album is so stupefying that I really can't find words to describe how little of an impact and forgettable most of the tracks are here. The only one standing out for me is "Permanent Funeral" as Hull gives an interesting treatment to a very Destruction-esque riff and makes it work for nearly 4 minutes. While the song should be 2, this might've been the one song that made me look at the track list out of joy rather than malice.
Is it unfair to compare this to Prowler in the Yard, or anything else for that matter? I don't think so, but if I did, the overwhelming lack of character here makes it feel like a different band, a band I wouldn't give two shits about.
So while people, press releases, reviewers and media outlets will continue to call Hull a guitar genius, Hayes " the poet laureate of extreme metal," Harrison a master of atmosphere and Jarvis "the pinnacle of inhuman drumming" Pig Destroyer have effectively created one of the most memorably mediocre albums in extreme metal.
To quote another band that went down the drain, "don't believe the hype."
****On a side note, the biggest offense here, without a doubt, are the bonus cover songs. Pig Destroyer's never been good at covering songs. Their "Burning of Sodom" cover might be okay, but as for their treatment of the Dwarves, the Melivins, The Stooges, Carcass, and whatever else has always been pretty lackluster. But to take rough cut punk classics like Black Flag's "Depression" and play with that fucking sterile robot Jarvis is a complete mockery. The guitars lack any kind of punch and the band rides Hayes's vocals as he does a surprisingly great job ripping things up (especially on that "Wolf's Blood" cover). This is real bad shit here and it'd do your mind best to avoid it or else some of your favorite punk classics might leave a bad taste in your mouth the next time you hear them.
It's also worth mentioning that the people who seem to like this are more in the realm of metal rather than grindcore. So gauge your expectations based on that as well.
Originally written for http://perpetualstrifemusic.blogspot.com/
Ask any knowledgeable metalhead to describe Pig Destroyer in one word. What would come to mind? Violent. Aggressive. Destructive. All these adjectives would apply gloriously and describe all that is D.C.'s pride and joy Pig Destroyer in a simple and sweet form. Since their formation 15 years ago, Pig Destroyer have made music that topples the meek and timid, while simultaneously causing a 10.0 on the Richter scale worldwide. Of course, when a band plays such an aggressive and psychopathic style of music, it may seem as if direction is lacking. While this was the case for their first few albums, an older and more polished Pig Destroyer have returned, triumphantly at that, and have released an album which in and of itself is an enigma wrapped in an enigma wrapped in yet another enigma. On this album, you get the various different sounds of PD. Is this a bad thing? Not at all.
When I pick up a metal album, I want no frills metal to assault my eardrums as soon as I hit that play button. No nonsense. Just give us the goods, and we'll be happy as a pig in mud. Pig Destroyer live and die by this mantra. As soon as the opening to "Sis" comes in, you know what you're in for. No acoustically gorgeous nonsense here, just straight forward grind-your-face-into-the-groundcore. While most metal bands seem to be trading in brutality and fervor for skinny jeans and neck tattoos, Pig Destroyer stand firm in their almighty position. For lack of a better term, Pig Destroyer came to rip shit up, and rip shit up they shall. Never once does the album wane into something boring and tiring. Rather, it's 100 on the speedometer all the way through. This formula works perfectly with the short songs, the longest being 4 minutes and the shortest being just 35 seconds. Obviously, no one listens to a grindcore album expecting something of progressively long nature. If anything, Pig Destroyer are just too damn exciting to play longer songs. If they did, the excitement would wane, and the ferocity would go with it.
The thing that makes grindcore, and good music in general, feel real and authentic is imperfection. If something is too polished, too clean, or even too produced, it feels fake. It feels phony. Pig Destroyer have a certain authenticity to them. By no means are these guys master musicians. The riffs are heavy duty and feel like they could shred an entire stack of phonebooks with one mean chord. But the real imperfection on the album is the vocals by J.R. Hayes. His vocals fit the sound perfectly, and what I mean by that is he sounds like crap most of the time. If the vocals were actually melodic, actually had a glimmer to them, this album would fail miserably. It would sound like Judas Priest's hideous love child with Rotten Sound. Hayes' vocals are just disgusting. The venom his tone spits is as poisonous as a black widow's bite. You feel the anger just ooze off the lyrics like some sort of oil off a can. In a way, the vocals are reminiscent of old school Napalm Death. The kind where it's no longer singing, but it isn't growling. It's that middle ground, between insanity and coherency, where his vocals and all the music stands.
In whole, this album shreds all others this year to bits. While it's not perfect, it's surely going to be topping many metalhead's year end lists this coming winter. Pig Destroyer are like a careening Mack truck, but instead of it going off the road and killing countless innocent people, it stays on the road, demolishing all that's in its path in a controlled way. The fact they have no bassist makes the heaviness of these album almost inconceivable at times. From the start, nothing is pretty about this album. It's nasty. It's ugly. It reeks of hate, booze, and that horrid smell of a venue after a gig. But I know one thing for sure, I wouldn't want my grind any other way.