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A Wholly Terrifying Experience - 95%

viciouschairshot, March 17th, 2009

At this point in the evolution of metal, it is exceedingly rare for an album to be so unflinchingly brutal as to elicit an intense reaction in the listener. Rarer still is when the album actually has the potential to outright terrify. Whether the veritable arms race of speed and aggression in bands has desensitized listeners to ‘extreme metal’ staples like blast beats and growling vocals, or, just as likely, the incorporation of these staples into the lexicon of more mainstream acts has effectively robbed them of some of their original power, by the close of the nineties, it seemed that metal had possibly reached an extremity impasse. Not surprisingly, many bands (and fans) began seeking out the musical intensity of Heavy Metal in less conventional forms. Just to list a few examples, 2001 saw Neurosis release A Sun That Never Sets, which relied more on psychedelic ambience than on the crushing dissonance of their previous releases, as well as the debut of Mastodon, who would help catalyze a newfound interest in prog-influenced metal. Even more tellingly, the beginning of the 21st century saw the meteoric rise in popularity of Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley’s Southern Lord Records, and the countless new-school Doom and Drone bands that called it home. Amidst this newfound interest in a matured form of metal, stripped-down Richmond, Virginia grindcore band Pig Destroyer made itself heard with one of the most relentless, uncompromising records ever produced.

While countless groups have attempted to create an experience of industrialized horror, none have been able to do so with the raw, barbaric intensity of Pig Destroyer’s Prowler in the Yard. To be sure, there are undeniably faster albums out there, yet none can match the air of menace created by the trio. Like Mick Harris and the other legendary blasters before him, Brian Harvey’s drum work seldom strays from the straightforward-in-theory-yet-insanely-difficult-in-practice syncopated blast, the drumbeat that, more than any other stylistic element defines the genre. A grindcore drummer’s mettle is often judged by his or her arm strength, and, following these criteria, Harvey is an undisputed master; part of what makes Prowler so frightening is the unrelenting, almost unnatural precision of the drums. Compounding this quality is the guitar work of Scott Hull. Prowler captures the grind veteran’s guitar playing at its most deafening. Hull’s riffs take on the sonic quality of a buzz saw on sheet metal, producing mangled fragments of distortion that abruptly transform into discernable chord progressions, only to devolve back into the walls of noise they emerged from. Decades earlier, Judas Priest created an infectious, rock and roll energy in the machine-like power of their clockwork dual guitars and steady, pounding rhythms; in 2001, Harvey’s drumming and Hull’s guitar create a mechanized sound that is both exhilarating and terrifying in its cold and alien artificiality.

In sharp contrast to the synthetic quality of the drums and guitar, J.R. Hayes vocals maintain a devastating naturalness. The term ‘caged animal’ is thrown around a lot in describing the qualities of a metal singer, but nowhere is this comparison more apt than in Hayes. Unlike many of his peers, Hayes’ vocals don’t so much convey a sense of strength as they do terror. Frantic, hoarse yells give way to piercing screams, leaving it ambivalent as to whether Hayes’ lyrical voice is an agent of the album’s musical torture, or an enraged victim. Hayes has frequently demonstrated himself to be the heart and soul of the band, and Prowler in the Yard is no exception. The sheer pained emotion in his vocal delivery adds a whole new dimension to the music, conveying a sense of suffering that is as engaging as it is repulsive. It is perhaps this quality that makes the album so compelling: As listeners, we don’t know whether we are actively enjoying the record, or having it inflicted upon us.

Prowler in the Yard showcases a staggering twenty two tracks, most of which clock in at less than one minute. Like most great Grindcore albums, the overwhelming speed at which songs begin and end forces the listener to view the album as whole piece in and of itself, a macrocosm composed of the frantic bursts of riffs and blasts that comprise it. More so than any grindcore album before it, Prowler feels like a fully developed, thematically coherent piece. The band even go so far as to employ a sort of framing device to their breakthrough release, beginning and ending the record with two similar spoken word pieces whose contents inform much of the albums’ violently sexual (or vice versa) lyrical themes. It is this completeness that makes Prowler feel like a classic, fully developed album, as opposed to a random, arbitrary collection of tracks. If nothing else, Prowler in the Yard proves that the Grindcore genre has the same artistic potential as its more complex metal brethren. To achieve such a level of artistry while remaining as mercilessly heavy and aggressive as Pig Destroyer, however, is a whole other achievement entirely, one that has secured the groups place in the annals of heavy metal brutality. Disgusting? Without question. Pornography? Perhaps. Art? Unquestionably.