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The Breakup Album from Hell - 90%

Loss 96, August 13th, 2018

‘Prowler in the Yard’ is seen by many as one of the great milestones in not only grindcore, but in extreme music as a whole. It is an album that is credited with bringing grind into the 2000’s, with a more updated, abrasive, and technical sound. Not only is it unique in that fact, but it is also one of the few grindcore concept albums out there.

I’m very familiar with this album’s reputation and why it is revered by many, in fact I attempted a listen to it over half a decade ago when I was in high school. At the time I had a strong taste for well-produced melodic death metal, and this album sounded too muddy and chaotic to my In Flames loving ears and I didn’t really read lyrics back then, but now as a somewhat jaded and cynical 21 year old I’ve developed quite the taste for the more “ugly” sounding subgenres metal has to offer and lyrics are quite a big deal for me now, so I thought I’d take ‘Prowler in the Yard’ out for another spin, and boy what a spin it was.

Before discussing the music, I think it is important to take a look at Prowler’s concept as this is a big part of what makes this album unique. The album focuses on the deranged thoughts of the heartbroken and disturbed ‘Prowler’, who is stalking his ex-girlfriend ‘Jennifer’, and displays his increasingly depraved fantasies of getting back with her…so in other words this is the breakup album from Hell. This in itself is nothing completely original, but what makes this story engaging is how it is portrayed in the lyrics by vocalist J.R Hayes.

These are some of the most well written and genuinely unsettling lyrics that I think I’ve come across in quite some time. Quite a lot of death metal/grindcore lyrics leave me quite indifferent, but there were actually points in the lyrics where I thought to myself “This is ridiculous”, or “This is messed up” as I read along with the music. The first of course being in the infamous intro track entitled “Jennifer”. This intro track is actually one of the more well-known songs on the album, and it’s not difficult to see why. We the listeners are given a cold emotionless, but descriptive account of a hypersexual act performed by Jennifer and her friend to a crowd of unsuspecting onlookers courtesy of Microsoft Sam. One onlooker cries “This is disgusting, it’s pornography”, but a middle aged man who is masturbating as he watches counters with the now famous line “No. This is beautiful. This is art.”

I have a tendency to skip intro tracks, but ‘Jennifer’ is absolutely integral to setting the tone for ‘Prowler’, and I can’t imagine listening to this album without starting off with this track, it’s that effective in creating the atmosphere. The depravity doesn’t let up from there, Hayes’ lyrics have an almost surreal, psychedelic quality that first comes off as a bit bizarre, but there a few references to drugs and antidepressants, so this could very well be our protagonist having drug induced hallucinations or at least that’s what I gathered from ‘Cheerleader Corpses’ and ‘Mapplethorpe Grey’. I could write a whole essay on the lyrics, but there is also music I need to talk about, but the point is that they are an essential part of fully engaging with this album, which isn’t something that I can say about a lot of albums in this genre. If you are a first time listener I highly recommend you read the lyrics as you listen, and try not to gasp too hard at the last few lines of ‘Starbelly’.

So, the lyrics are pretty great, but what about the music? Well it’s no secret that Scott Hull, and Brian Harvey, are two of the most respected musicians in the genre, and both of them really shine here. Hull serves up chaotic, but technical passages which compliment Hayes’ demented vocal delivery nicely, and although there a lot of technical spots on the album, it is clear that Hull is a firm believer in the power of a groovy riff. There are plenty of moments where Pig Destroyer aren’t afraid of indulging in a little bit of chugging that’ll get any listener nodding along. Brian Harvey is an absolute powerhouse behind the kit. His blast beats are dizzying, but precise just the way they should be. He also knows when to tone it down a bit to let the music breathe or at least the closest thing that comes to breathing on this album.

But the highlight for me has got to be J.R Hayes’ vocal performance. Grindcore is more known for its guttural cookie monster vocals, but not here. Hayes’ vocals sound desperate and anguished, but most frighteningly of all he sounds human. With harsh vocals the aim generally tends to be to sound otherworldly. Like a demon or one of the ring wreathes, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but on ‘Prowler in the Yard’ Hayes’ sounds like a man who’s completely lost his grip on reality and is trapped inside the dark caverns of his own mind and is ready to make the unspeakable things in his head a reality, and that is far more terrifying than any Tolkien inspired hell spawn.

Now for my criticisms. I realise that this is a grindcore album, and very short songs are kind of a staple of the genre, and short bursts of intensity are part of the charm, but I actually find Pig Destroyer at their most enjoyable when they let their ideas hang around for a bit. There were quite a few times when I’d hear a riff that I’d really like, and just as I start to really get into it the song is over. I’m afraid I’m the kind of guy that likes to hear something he likes a couple of times in a song, which may raise some questions as to why I’m reviewing a grindcore album, but this is just a minor nit-pick that in no way compromises the enjoyability of the album.

So all in all ‘Prowler in the Yard’ is worthy of a lot of the praise it receives, and if the music isn’t really your thing, it’s worth checking out for some highly disturbing yet very well thought out lyricism. Either way Prowler is worth listening to at least once with the lyrics regardless of your metal affiliation.