Review Summary: God is in the mirror, not hiding in the skies; this heathen temple will stand tall until the day that I die.
I've come to find a certain joy in seeing what my mother thinks of the music that I listen to. Most of the time she hates what I expect her to hate and loves what I expect her to love. The interesting thing, though, is that she doesn't dismiss things based on a cursory listen of a few songs. I don't know whether it's because she knows that I want her to like what I listen to or because she has a genuine interest in the music being played, but even if she hates something she will search for certain aspects of the music that appeal to her. Every now and then, she'll surprise me by enjoying a record that I thought she would dislike. A notable example of this would be Opeth's Watershed. However, when listening to a few tracks off of Pig Destroyer's Phantom Limb with the jewel case in hand, she could only bring herself to say one thing:
"Um...there's a naked woman on the cover."
It's a good testament to just how polarizing Pig Destroyer's sound is; music so extreme is pretty much exclusively loved or hated, and it often leaves the listener unable to interpret their thoughts and opinions on the actual music right away. I've witnessed a few peoples' initial exposure to Pig Destroyer, and the ones who were actually able to form a coherent sentence usually said something like, "Wow, this band is terrible" with a conviction that I'm sure wouldn't be there even if they were talking about one of their favorite bands. In a way, I think JR Hayes and company would be satisfied with the extreme responses their music brings out, even though a lot of it is negative.
The true appeal of Pig Destroyer only shows when one looks deeper into their music, beyond the superficial aspects like their artistically explicit album covers (it must be said that John Dyer Baizley's art for this particular album is beautiful despite its 'offensive,' by America's ridiculously conservative standards, nature) and unrelentingly brutal sound. This realization starts when the lyrics are read. The aforementioned listeners can't be blamed for missing the poetic skill of JR Hayes' words in "Jupiter's Eye" when he screams "Black-haired angel by the bonfire with alien eyes, divine - they flicker a moment in the flames then follow the smoke into the sky" because you simply can't understand what he's saying most of the time. Metal bands with screamed vocals that write impressive lyrics are to be respected immensely; the fact that listeners can't understand what's being said is probably one of the reasons that a lot of modern metal bands write shoddy and trite lyrics and settle for inane topics. Introspective, deep, intelligent, and emotional lyrics from bands like Pig Destroyer show how devoted they are to their craft and that they put every ounce of effort into all aspects of their albums.
JR Hayes is a genius and one of the most passionate and intense voices in music. Forgive me for referencing Youtube in a review, but there is a video featuring Pig Destroyer performing live (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ApH6DTzi_Hc) where Hayes' microphone breaks. He drops to his knees and keeps screaming while the veins in his neck pop out and his muscle bulge and he can still be heard
over the instruments and the crowd. Amazing. On record, his vocals are no less impressive. Phantom Limb's vocal standout is the midsection of "Thought Crime Spree," where Hayes sounds like a caged animal clawing and biting the bars, putting every inch of his energy into the task. The bridge of "Loathsome" features a new vocal contribution from Hayes in the form of clean vocals. Don't be fooled though; they sound just as menacing as his harsh vocals, if not more so as he says "This is my escape art exhibition," growing more and more frenzied as he repeats the line before the song ends with "And I'm never coming back." It's an incredibly chilling moment. Mentioned already were his lyrics, and it really can't be stressed enough how good Hayes is. He writes about gruesome subjects, that much can't be denied. But to dismiss his words as just another bunch of stupid horror movie references and attempts to shock people would be to completely miss the point; looking deeper, one finds that rarely have these subjects been tackled with such verbose precision and even a bit of...sensitivity. It sounds ridiculous but it's true. Take for example "Girl in the Slayer Jacket," perhaps Phantom Limb's strangest song lyrically: "The girl in the Slayer jacket gave me my first kiss...she hung herself from an overpass down in McLean where the old trees loom...but the truth is her eyes had been dead since she was five; she just hadn't disposed of her body." The fact that Hayes can weave underlying emotions into his lyrics shows a skill that most lyricists will never master.
Pig Destroyer have been compared to a sonic train wreck. Different comparisons could be used of course, but that's probably the most accurate one in terms of the images that it elicits. Train wrecks seems to fit in perfectly with the mood of most of their songs. Words like "intense" and "extreme" are what first come to mind, but in the end words like that, although they represent a certain pinnacle of heaviness, seem inadequate. Metaphors seem to work better. Brian Harvey's lone accelerating drums in the bridge of "Loathsome" are like the brief spell in between road tunnels; the sun shines for a brief moment before the car is once again plunged into the shadowy, oppressive walls of the next tunnel. Scott Hull's guitar leads in "The Machete Twins" sound like two blades (machetes, natch) being sharpened against each other, and the intermittent palm muting in "Rotten Yellow" are splashes of paint thrown onto a canvas before it's set on fire with a spastic ascending riff. Hull and Harvey are simply two of the tightest musicians out there right now; they're in tune with each other throughout the whole of Phantom Limb. The lack of a bassist makes for an interesting sound; usually it's the bassist who locks into a groove with the drummer, but Hull has to focus both on creating a suitable backing for Hayes' animalistic vocals and creating layers of riffs for Harvey to follow. The songwriting is better here than on Terrifyer and Prowler in the Yard; things have slowed down just a bit without losing Pig Destroyer's signature intensity. The songs are longer and their composition is more varied, and the clear production certainly does wonders for the music, as each aspect is given equal spotlight in the forefront of the mix, and of course the samples that sound-man Blake Harrison chooses are ever-present and eerier than ever. Phantom Limb is evidence that Hayes, Hull, and Harvey can still knock up the brutality level even though they may be getting a bit older with families to look after.
Going back to the stigma of bands like Pig Destroyer, I've always drawn comparisons to art and music when arguments are being made about censorship and the offensive nature of said bands. Why is it that adults have no problem with their child seeing an ancient work of art featuring a woman's exposed breasts but would cringe at the thought of their teenager seeing Phantom Limb's cover? Even my own (Pig Destroyer's too, incidentally) home state's flag and seal feature the proud breast of Virtus. Similarly, violent movies are never picketed because they're on the shelf at Blockbuster, but I'm sure if any typical conservative parent just glanced
at JR Hayes' lyrics they would burn the album and email their local paper about the degradation of society. For music like Pig Destroyer, I see these responses as positive things. When you watch a movie and you see someone get decapitated, you know it's fake no matter how authentic it looks. When Hayes screams something like "Your ribcage is open like a great white's jaws," he does so with such conviction that for a second it seems like he's writing from experience.
. Bands like Pig Destroyer don't leave home without it. Your mom might not approve though.