Review Summary: Discarding the chainsaw for a hacksaw.
I’ll always have a soft spot for my fellow Virginians in Pig Destroyer. There is nothing quite like going to the “Local Favorites” section of a record store and seeing their albums side-by-side with pageninetynine’s Document #8
and Pygmy Lush’s Bitter River
. It sort of softens the blow of Patton Oswalt’s famous “Sterling, VA” standup bit, wherein he bemoans an identity-less wasteland in which he was mired in musical ignorance only ten minutes away from “fu
ckin’ Fugazi and Minor Threat and Bad Brains, but I didn’t know about any of that because I was in Sterling, Virginia.”
Sterling is a lot different now, and if you believe some people, Pig Destroyer is a lot different too. People would say that a band this heavy didn’t need a bass player. Well, they’ve got one now. People would talk about JR Hayes discarding a broken microphone and screaming loudly enough to still be heard over amplified instruments. Well, that shi
t has negative effects on your vocals. And people would say that Blake Harrison – the dude who finds those samples that last for two seconds before certain songs – serves a pointless role in the band. That one is a little harder to refute, but I have always appreciated his ear for disturbing samples, and the first track on Head Cage
is the first time that I’ve wished he would dial it back a little. It starts off well enough, with disarmingly charming music and a voice-over warning about what you’re about to hear, but the harsh feedback that follows goes on for a bit too long before we get to the actual business of a Pig Destroyer album.
But first, here’s another thing: my favorite Pig Destroyer album, Phantom Limb
, was apparently extremely difficult to make and almost broke apart the band. It was all because former drummer Brian Harvey didn’t want to play at a blistering pace anymore, so the band was forced to write longer, more structured songs that didn’t end after 45 seconds. They ended up being extremely good at it, but it led to the back-to-basics Book Burner
that subsequently disappointed a fanbase that had grown larger after the acclaim of Phantom Limb
. Head Cage
is successful because it marries those two approaches. The songs, in general, are a little slower and sludgier, but almost half of them are under two minutes long. Economical songwriting has long been a PD staple, and because they were so skilled at making every second of those short songs count, there is rarely any time wasted when they stretch things out to three or four minutes.
After the rare wasted space of “Tunnel Under the Tracks”, the pick scrape of “Dark Train” starts the record with a bang. It’s punchy and short, barely extending past a minute. It is classic Pig Destroyer, and it is followed by “Army of Cops”, which is perhaps the least classic-sounding track here. Reception to this lead single, which features guest vocals by Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s Richard Johnson, was mixed, but the song’s relatively straightforward metal sound and structure is a breath of fresh air from PD’s usual breakneck speed and chaos. It is a little strange to hear JR Hayes’s sneering vocals at the end of the song, though. It is almost as if he is trying to substitute attitude for vocal power, and I’m not sure that sound works for him. Overall, I’m not bothered by the new, somewhat tamer sound of his harsh vocals, but I can understand why they, along with the slower sound, might make some think that PD has lost their edge.
However, all the things that I love about Pig Destroyer are still present. Scott Hull relies a little too much on palm muting (he always has, but the pace was so frenetic that it wasn’t too noticeable), but he still pulls out some excellent riffs in songs like “Terminal Itch”, “Circle River”, and seven-minute closer “House of Snakes”. The drum sound is a bit weak, but Adam Jarvis plays extremely well, and it is especially thrilling to hear him lock into a groove with brother John Jarvis on the bass. These added elements form a backbone that, along with guest vocals on several tracks, make up for some of the raw power that Hayes has lost in his voice. And his lyrics are still some of the most unique out there, albeit not disturbing like they were on Terrifyer
and Prowler in the Yard
. “The Adventures of Jason and JR” is silly, but every other song on the album has great lines that are now more easily understandable to boot. Pig Destroyer may have switched from a chainsaw that cuts quickly to a hacksaw that takes a bit longer, but they’re still creating phantom limbs, and the blood and viscera are still present.