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I love Pig Destroyer, really I do. The early splits and albums had an amazing sense of simplistic brutality and an impressive range of sound for all of the musicians involved. Prowler in the Yard is the most amazing album in almost all aspects of the word. Terrifyer tended to shy away from the experimentation that made Prowler so amazing, but it was still a solid album of deathgrind. Needless to say, I was VERY excited when I heard Phantom Limb was coming, and I (something I almost NEVER do, I download most these days) went out the first day it was on the shelves and bought myself a physical copy.
On first playing the CD, I noticed immediately that there was more sampling going on than I was used to from Pig Destroyer. The band thankfully manages to do this artfully, with fairly meaningful samples used in small doses. The samples reflect what's going on in the music or help paint an image in the reader's mind. This is a much-needed improvement from the typical sampling these days, with ever-so-many South Park and stand-up comedy references. Glad to see this band still takes itself seriously.
In most other respects, however, the album seems more juvenile than most Pig Destroyer releases. Many aspects of Pig Destroyer's music that have made them unique in past releases seem toned down or modified. The attempt seems to be making a more "conventional" album. In making an album that by its formula could pull more fans in, Pig Destroyer has driven away old fans (to an extent) by changing what made them unique.
The guitar tone, as with a lot of aspects of this album, has been changed considerably. It sounds to be a new pedal, which with a little better EQ-ing could be good for the Pig Destroyer sound. However, the lack of bass, which was typical unimportant in past releases, is excessively compensated for with an almost ridiculous amount of bass tone. The guitar is overdone in an attempt to make up for an instrument that can barely be heard in most bands, and an instrument Pig Destroyer has done just fine without. The new tone would sound a lot better with the bass turned town to about 2/3s of its current state, and there would still be plenty of low end.
The drums are relatively similar, but for reasons I can't articulate as well I wasn't as impressed. Stylistically, this album has moments where it resembles a grind-influenced metalcore album. As a result, the drummer is doing a little too much of that breakdown drumming, with the quarter note crashes and snare hits on the third beat of the measure.. the drummer seems to think he's playing for Lamb of God once in a while.. I'll pass. Call me when you get back to the technical blast beats I can't even play in my dreams.
The vocal work is similarly different on this album, lyrically and stylistically. J.R. seems to be trading in his low, rumbling shouts from Prowler and his high shrieks from Terrifyer for a new style of vocal. It is still shouted, though it seems to be layered with an almost hypnotic spoken tone. If you are familiar with the song "Gravedancer," the vocals are very similar. It's an interesting attempt, but I would have preferred to see it used with a little more discretion. Moderation is the key on these sorts of things. Hayes has an amazing range, he ought to utilize the extremes of his voice more.
Lyrical focus is shifted on Phantom Limb. Pig Destroyer started with mixed themes, from politics to pain. The focus started to shift more to the inner workings of the mysterious outsider's mind, blurring sexuality and religion with violence and agony. Phantom Limb shows more of a focus on concrete experience or events. There's an unfortunate gore song, "Deathripper," though it thankfully maintains a balance of clever lines and still keeps that "outside freak" image instead of doing some Brutal Death Metal shit. There's also the closest thing to a ballad I've ever seen, "Girl in the Slayer Jacket." The story line seems very intimate, and perhaps even gives the listener a rare glimpse into the actual life and experiences of the lyricist. The lyrical change's value comes down to personal opinion, really, and I myself did not care for it.
Don't mistake me, this is a solid album from an amazing band. Had this been a newcomer's debut, the band would look promising with some work and maturity. Maybe these guys set the bar too high with the near-perfection of Prowler in the Yard, but I expect a lot more out of Pig Destroyer than this album gave me. New fans will be impressed, old fans may feel cheated. I wish I could wholeheartedly recommend or discourage the purchase of this album, but the jury is still out in my mind, and I think it always will be.