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Pig Destroyer - Head Cage (Album Review)

Friday, 14 September 2018 Written by Alec Chillingworth

Photo: Joey Wharton

Opeth went ‘70s prog rock. Metallica cut their hair. Celtic Frost did ‘Cold Lake’. And yet, even after all that, people still shit the bed over this stuff. So when grindcore heroes Pig Destroyer released Army of Cops, a song with discernible vocals and a riff that could give Slipknot a leg-up on their next album, there was a bit of a hoo-hah.

But the Virginia natives have never been ‘just’ a grindcore band. They once released a one-song, 38-minute EP. They’ve littered previous albums with guitar lines Kirk Hammett would happily take credit for. From very early on, the scope of their ambition has been wider than blastbeats and silly samples.

On album six, ‘Head Cage’, they go the whole hog. They’ve got a bassist now – John Jarvis – and his presence is felt from the brain to the bowels.

Pig Destroyer previously dished out a specialised sort of malnourished, razor-thin grind. With Jarvis on board, there’s extra texture and proper low-end grumbles. His expansive playing on Terminal Itch is reminiscent of Pestilence in their star-gazing, spaciest moments.

Obviously, ‘Head Cage’ is still as brutal as a Boris Johnson snuff film. Terminal Itch, for example, is guttural and a minute long. There are lots of cheesy samples, too – the album’s intro, The Tunnel Under The Tracks, opens with the following: “We will not be held responsible for any hearing impairments or damage caused to you from excessive exposure to this sound.” Daft, yeah. But when it’s followed by Dark Train, its gang vocals raw enough to give Dripback a rash, nobody’s laughing.

Throughout the album, Pig Destroyer pull the rug from under our feet, roll us up in it and cut us into little pieces. Circle River balances southern metal boogie with sludge and harsh, choppy hardcore riffs. Seven minute album closer House of Snakes sees that Metallica influence rear its head again, both in the dual harmonies and an intro they surely pilfered from Blackened.

And this tapestry of nastiness is all woven together by J.R. Hayes. Almost everything he spews here is audible. Every grunt, every low growl can probably be traced back to a lyric sheet. That might sound dumb – well done, your songs have words – but the fact that Hayes keeps the intensity this high, atop this musical backdrop, while keeping that diction? It makes for a completely new experience.

So if you want pure grind, you’ve got Pig Destroyer’s second album, ‘Prowler In The Yard’. That’s still there. It’s still brilliant. ‘Head Cage’ might not be better than that, but it’s different. Bridging the gap between the old and the new, this record is an entry point for Pig Destroyer nercomers and an exit sign for those who insist they only like the early stuff. But at its grizzled heart, ‘Head Cage’ remains an extreme album. It just happens to have hooks and groove for days. Like Napalm Death. And Napalm Death are pretty good, aren’t they?

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