Review Summary: The head cage is what keeps you from digging this.
Pig Destroyer are irreparably different from the band that released Prowler In the Yard
and other albums to hide from your mother back in the early 2000s. “Irreparably” here means that undoubtably fans will lament the band has gone soft, or are no longer the spastic grindcore outfit. And it’s true. Gone are the massive breasts that adorn now-classic Terrifyer
or putrid bodies hacking off their limbs, but major labels like Relapse probably ceased that kind of purposeful shock-grubbing around when Cannibal Corpse
started making censorship sleeves.
Even Head Cage
’s short “atmospheric” intro track, “Tunnel Under the Tracks” consists of a snippet of classical music and an almost comical warning that they accept no responsibility for any hearing impairment, before busting into some Gnaw Their Tongues
-esque eerie rumbling and something about drowning in blood. It’s sort of spooky and sets a mood, but as anyone who still shudders at the name “Jennifer” knows, J.R. Hayes’ thoroughly macabre mind is capable of much, much more.
Hayes’ inner workings aren’t the only thing twisted. After years of barking and shrieking as one of the most beloved vocalists AND lyricists in the heavy music niche, J.R.’s vocals are definitely altered. It’s a relatively minor complaint, but he’s mostly abandoned higher pitches and settled into wide-throated yells more reminiscent of Pig Destroyer’s hardcore influences than anything harsher. This is key in the band’s adjustment in overall sound, however, and setting all nostalgic opinions aside, there’s nothing wrong with Head Cage
. All elements considered, no one should be surprised.
“Heathen Temple” from way back on 2007’s Phantom Limb
has one of the most infectious riffs in modern metal, and this was long before Pig Destroyer met The Jarvises. That evolution was inevitable and came on insanely quick. 2012’s Book Burner
was the first to feature live drummer Adam Jarvis, and now Head Cage
is the studio premier of first-ever Pig Destroyer bassist John Jarvis, cousin to aforementioned skinman. Not only is the band now 20 years out from their debut “full-length” Explosions In Ward 6
, they’ve adapted two major players to their lineup one album and one member at a time. They’ve grown a living breathing rhythm section for the first time in their careers, and the word is “groove”.
After “Tunnel Under the Tracks” cuts out, Pig Destroyer pay a minute of respect to their past with “Dark Train”. Genuinely clocking in at just over 70 seconds, the track is textbook grindcore to the T. If a band could be accused of ripping themselves off, it could be believed here. The context, however, is astoundingly important. What follows is “Army of Cops”, one of Head Cage
’s prerelease singles. General opinions skewed towards “It’s ok” on the release of the video, which features Richard Johnson on guest vocals only fueling the “metallic hardcore” vibes. The track is infected with call-and-response gang vocals and riffs so thick with groove they could confidently challenge any Every Time I Die
cut. The lukewarm reaction is understandable, but when given a quick shot of “old school” Pig Destroyer followed immediately by the full-fledged power of the five-piece, one realizes “Army of Cops” is not only addictingly catchy but surprisingly well-layered and expressive of only more mature material to come.
It becomes obvious through the course of Head Cage
some of the songs may have been written before the advent of Pig Destroyer’s quintet-hood, such as “Dark Train” and “Trap Door Man”, arguably any track that doesn’t clear the two-minute mark is a distinctively different style than the meat of the album. “Terminal Itch” could’ve easily wedged itself into either Phantom Limb
or Book Burner
, whereas two tracks earlier “Circle River” could almost be described as hard rock, or even nu-metally towards the end with Corey Taylor-esque moaned lyrics. Seven-minute closer “House of Snakes” is at least 60% adequate material for post-metal. The absolute best bits, however, are the few places where all parts converge (ha). Perfectly portioned, “The Torture Fields” and “The Last Song” waver around three minutes apiece and distinguishing whether they fit the grind trio or the groove quintet is difficult. The most possibility for reconciliation lies in “The Torture Fields”, which retains the unmistakable Pig Destroyer flavor but leaves plenty of room for brooding riffs and an impressive display from the Jarvis with the sticks in the final minute. “The Last Song” (deceptively titled) is beefy metallic grind, but the first 20 seconds are a jazzy bass solo and synth squeals. It all works astoundingly well. It’s sort of fascinating in this way to see the evolution of the band so perfectly displayed, and perhaps it makes for an imperfect record in the classical sense, but…….there is NOTHING WRONG with Head Cage