I think I was the only person in the world that wasn’t excited about the prospect of a new Pig Destroyer album. After the grinding greatness that was Prowler in the Yard and the warped masterpiece that was Terrifyer, the band’s fourth album, 2007’s Phantom Limb, was a total letdown. It wasn’t that Phantom Limb was bad by any means, but with its emphasis on longer compositions, breakdowns and grooves, it simply wasn’t what I wanted from a Pig Destroyer album, and as a result it failed to resonate with me. So, when the news broke that the Virginia-based grinders would be unleashing their first batch of new material in half a decade in the form of Book Burner, and the wheels of the hype machine subsequently started to turn, it only served to further lessen my enthusiasm for a long-overdue album from a band that had seemingly “lost it.”
Well folks, Book Burner is upon us and Pig Destroyer most definitely haven’t “lost it.” Instead, they have crafted an album that’s a much more logical progression from Terrifyer and more than satiates my craving for the band’s punk-damaged, riff-gasm inducing grindcore. The thing that makes Pig Destroyer a truly uh, terrifying band to behold is the way they effortlessly mix the cerebral with the savage. Vocalist JR Hayes’ literate lyrics and guitarist/producer/mastermind Scott Hull’s six-string precision are undoubtedly sophisticated, but at the same time the music is beating you down to the piss-soaked ground, turning the proverbial dark alley into a bloody mess, your body into a train-wreck of broken bones and mangled entrails. They have taken their attack in a few new directions on Book Burner, but the changes have in no way, shape or form softened the carnage Pig Destroyer are capable of unleashing. If anything it has only upped the killing capacity, as evidenced by the renewed vigor with which the band blasts their way through the material.
While many in the metal community tend to focus on Hayes’ lyrics and storytelling, I’ve always seen Hull’s guitar-work as Pig Destroyer’s number one selling point. His playing answers the question: “What if Voivod had been a grindcore band?” while at the same time throwing in plenty of surly punk/hardcore bludgeon. The riffs can be dissonant and angular, but they also rock hard as fuck; Hull never places technicality above headbang-ability, and achieving this balance has always been one of his greatest strengths. Another strength is his knack for making even the shortest of songs feel complete; grindcore is more known for a shitload of tracks blasting by in a total blur than anything resembling catchiness, but Hull somehow makes even the most mind-warping of riffs stick to the inside of your skull, even as they smash it to bits.
As for Hayes’ lyrics; Book Burner sees the vocalist moving even further away from the misogynistic poetry that characterized Pig Destroyer’s classic efforts. Sure there’s still a little of that lovelorn night stalker mentality present on tracks like “Baltimore Strangler,” but for the most part Hayes brings quite a diverse range of subject matter to the table, from the tale of scoring hard drugs that is “White Lady” to the scathing political rants of “The Diplomat” and “The American’s Head, to the alcohol-fueled madness of “Iron Drunk.” Hayes seems more interested in reporting on the totality of American society’s pitch-black underbelly here than he does in tormenting the next victim of his twisted affections. There are also several guest vocal turns; Katherine Katz (Agoraphobic Nosebleed, ex-Salome), Jason Netherton (Misery Index, ex-Dying Fetus) and Richard Johnson (Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Drugs of Faith) add yet another facet to Pig Destroyer’s sensory assault with their distinctive growls and screams.
With so much attention given to Hayes and Hull’s contributions, it can sometimes be hard to remember that Pig Destroyer is a four man operation. Unfortunately, Blake Harrison still isn’t quite making enough noise to have a truly significant impact on Book Burner‘s sound, but he does manage to bring some pretty choice samples to the mix, which serve to both enhance the listening experience and bring to mind the good ol’ days of Relapse, when it seemed like almost every band was incorporating killer samples into their recordings (albeit usually as intros or outros). New drummer Adam Jarvis (Misery Index, ex-Criminal Element) doesn’t possess quite the same flair as the departed Brian Harvey, but his playing is almost frightening in its cruel, calculating exactitude. His drum-patterns seem to interlock perfectly with Hull’s guitar-work, imbuing Book Burner with an intensity that’s off the fucking charts.
Come to think of it, “intensity” is probably the word that best describes Book Burner; even when Pig Destroyer slows things down (which is rare), the album seethes with palpable rage. Much like Today is the Day’s criminally underrated Pain is a Warning, it is a vitriolic reaction to the desperation and hopelessness that has gripped the country since the GW Bush years; when one factors in Hayes’ accompanying short story The Atheist, Book Burner paints a harrowing picture not only of our current fucked-up state of affairs politically, socially and mentally, but also of a horrific possible future that goes well beyond worst-case scenario. It is the soundtrack to raging against the crumbling of society, while at the same time being crushed and suffocated under the falling debris.
Overall, Pig Destroyer have unleashed another collection of musical smart-bombs that progresses the band’s sound, style and substance, while at the same time re-emphasizing the battle-tested trademarks that have helped them claw their way to the top of the grindcore heap over the past decade and a half. Whether or not it will be held in the same high esteem as their classic albums is yet to be seen, but one simply cannot deny that Pig Destroyer have made an ultra-caustic comeback with Book Burner.