Thursday, May 2, 2013

"Ahhhh, Pig Killer!!!!" Fanning The Flames That Pig Destroyer's 'Book Burner' Has Caused.

Pig Destroyer has returned! Like heroes triumphant from battle they've come back to the streets from a long hiatus, the masses of Grind fans aligned on either side of the homecoming parade waving enthusiastically and throwing handfuls of confetti! But what's this? The crowd disperses? Our bewildered heroes twist their heads in confusion from atop their float as the cheers dissipate and the buckets of rice and confetti are left half-spilled and rolling in the curb. There are doubters amongst us, with great big megaphones telling you that they aren't the heroes you've thought them to be. They carry big colorful signs that say that the war has changed them, that there are bigger heroes a block over with bigger floats who have fought in better battles. I'm sorry you feel that way.
I know this bunch of bullshit is coming at you a bit after the fact, and it's all been a bucket of chum I've laid out in other various comments boxes along the way, but bare with me please - I'd be remiss if I didn't say it all in one place on my own page. I was actually surprised to see the bulk of negative reactions to the new Pig Destroyer album 'Book Burner' in the weeks/months following it's release. More so because they were all coming from individual fans of the grindcore genre, putting it out there in blogs and Youtube videos and individual CD reviews on sites selling the album. Major magazines and websites seemed to praise the record for the most part - and while I do take a little bit of stock in that I'm alot more interested to hear what the grunts on the frontline have to say about it. After all, they don't have to cater to and/or worry about bad-mouthing the same band that they have coming in for an interview next week or put on the cover of the latest issue.
In hindsight however, I'm glad to see a lack of blind love for a band as highly respected and heavy hitting as Pig Destroyer are in their genre - kudos to not just liking the album because of who it came from and lying to yourself, there's too much of that in the art world, and as a result too many artists resting on their laurels. Which is NOT, mind you, what I think Pig Destroyer did on 'Book Burner'. I understand that there is the potential to not like alot of things on this album, and I'm not trying to change your mind - just hoping to throw another perspective out there I guess. Here are a few of the universal negatives that I've picked up on from the bulk of complaints: 1) (the big one) The production: It sounds polished, this album comes off cleaner than a nun's cooch. I think a big part of that is the drum sound. Mind you this was the first album they did in Hull's new studio - and the drums were already programmed for each song prior to Adam Jarvis even joining the ranks. From my understanding he just played over the already programmed drums to the Tee (T?), not leaving room for freestyle rolls and fills, and who's going to walk into their first Pig Destroyer rehearsal and tell Hull "fuck off I'm doing it my way"? - maybe Dave Witte. That's what happens when you write an album without a drummer. While  triggers potentially add to the problem, the whole thing comes off (in comparison to Brian Harvey's style) as sounding a bit mechanical and lifeless. The drums are in your face, and still sound programmed - as opposed to the organic almost analog feel to them on previous records. When Richard Johnson or Kat Katz step in as guest vocalists this album sounds like Agoraphobic Nosebleed's 'Agorapocolypse', because basically - well, it is Agoraphobic Nosebleed - especially considering the live drums on 'Book Burner' sound exactly like the programmed ones on 'Agorapocolypse'. It makes me wish that ANB would go back to their PCP-tinged 5000 bpm blur grind and not slow things down and suckle from the potential creative teet of future Pig Destroyer albums - but that's just being selfish.
This was also the first time that the guitars weren't screwed with. In a recent interview Hull revealed that on previous albums the guitar tone was digitally dropped an octave or two in the final mix, to help give it a bit of a bottom end bass tone. Anybody whose done any kind of recording can tell you that this causes the overall tone of the guitar on the recording to sound a bit more muddy and muffled. The end result worked well for Pig Destroyer on past records because it only adds to the suffocating atmosphere of sounds and blends in with the ambient noises creeping around beneath the layers of sonic cacaphony. In my opinion the best example of this is on the Terrifyer album: that lower tone causes the guitar to digitally bleed into the other instruments, and on that album particularly (probably because of the riffs its married to) it's dizzying and violent, which is what that record is all about. 'Book Burner' is so much clearer and less feedback laden because it's untampered with and what you get at face value, and what you get at face value probably put through more emphasis on the audio interface and not the amp. It's fuckin' crispy. With all this clarity and in-your-faceness I will admit I was hoping to hear a bit more of Blake Harrison's noise production in the mix, but it's nowhere near the head of the twister as much as everything else is when it's all churning at once. For me the production is fine, and I think for the band it's fine. If anything I'd like to think Hull is taking the negative feedback about it as a big ol' handjob to the work he did creating his own studio from the bottom up, it could be quite the compliment to an audiogeek who enjoys piecing together 5.0 surround sound ambient audio landscapes in his off/off/off/off time. I think people may be a bit less peeved about the overall sound of the record if it had a bit less negative space throughout it, space that could be easily filled by some creepy undertones from Harrison when the music stops and it's just hull introducing another riff before it all starts up again. And if you don't think so then simply think of it like this: For as narrow a genre as grindcore is, Pig Destroyer have done a tremendous job of not putting out the same record twice. 30 Counts Of Battery is a compilation piece plain and simple, you could easily argue it's value in a discography. That puts Prowler In The Yard as their blueprint album, Terrifyer as their artsy album, Phantom Limb as their thrash album, and Book Burner is simply their clean album, from there you've just got to deal with it... Wait, there's more:

Second biggest complaint: Both the lyrics and delivery from JR Hayes. People seemed a bit disappointed with both. I admit there is a bit of a lack of desperation in his vocals on this album, and instead of sounding like a jaded psychopath wrestling with his own potential lack of morality and guilt, he comes off a bit more monochromed as a snarling dog throughout all 19 tracks. Well, delivery mirrors content - and lyrically this album is radically different than past ventures. It's less introverted and poetic and more graphic and surfaced. Artists don't want to do the same thing over and over again, and real artists won't if they aren't convicted to what they're writing. It's been 5 years since PD put out an album, probably damn near 15 since their inception. Nobody should be trying to passionately deliver from a place that they're not living in anymore. It's an evolution of content and I for one welcome it. If you've been listening to the band for that long then whether you know it or not you are becoming numb to the previous aesthetic his lyrics have been trademarked as. It's not shocking anymore to hear about his character strangling a woman and then masturbating in her closet, no matter how poetic and subjective he makes it sound. This record is a huge step away from previous ones along those lines, it's a skeleton crew of short stories opposed to another sonic novel of that blurred line between love and justifiable homicide. Sure he dabbles in familair waters with songs like 'Boston Strangler' and 'Dirty Knife', but I honestly wonder if those were written partly to bate the appetites of Pig Destroyer fans and not leave them feeling ostricized by what has become such a critical component of the songs and a watermark for the band that allows them to rise above others in the genre either still waxing about how shitty politics are or those those that simply just use a medical dictionary as their thesaurus. I'm glad the palette is expanding - drug use, religious conformity, war, and a big violent drunk guy getting into a fight... The crayons are coloring outside of the lines and it leaves tons of potential for future musings.
3.) An overall lack of signature riffs/hooks. I don't know what to throw your way on this one. Either you dig what's there or you don't. I hear the underlying Slayer worship that's always occasionally reared it's head in past albums in songs like 'Permanent Funeral'. I hear the aforementioned dizzying violence in 'Iron Drunk' and 'Valley Of The Geysers', and even the balls out blur ala the beginning of 'Heathen Temple' in 'The Bug'. It's all there for me. In my opinion this record appropriately falls into the fifth album template of the sound of their entire career congealed into one album, and it works. 'Sis' sounds like a cut that could have been pulled from the era of '30 Counts Of Battery' as much as 'The Baltimore Strangler' could've easily slid in anywhere on 'Phantom Limb'. A sort of greatest hits album without it actually being a greatest hits album.
Here's what I think, the reason it would seem alot of folks are disappointed with this disc is because A: It's been a long time coming, and despite being "open minded" or self-proclaimed music snobs, people built this album up whether they realized it or not. B: This band has made a serious mark in the scene - and everyone is going to compare every release after 2001 to 'Prowler In the Yard', and that's damn unfortunate, because if this were their first album these people would be putting it on a pedestal. C: Because they've made such a mark in the scene they suffer from the countless legions of mediocre bands trying to sound like them severely watering down the genre. Step away from it for five years and some change and all of a sudden you find yourself facing a decision musically: Either just get in there and do what it is you do best, hoping it will still stand above the second generation sound you've helped inspire, or possibly step out of your comfort zone and do something different in an effort to raise the bar yet again, but with that risk alienating your fans. I'm glad they chose the former, at least this time around. I think with what they went through we're all lucky to even have a new Pig Destroyer record, and all really lucky they didn't continue down the path of critic's boners for 'Phantom Limb' and lean even more heavily on boring thrash stylings. They did what they needed to do and made an all encompassing album of their sound just to get their feet back on the ground. At the risk of sounding like a COMPLETE asshole, I think we all need to comb thru our Grind collections at home and throw away anything that isn't elite. I'd love to litter this page with shit-tons of under-the-radar type groups, but the fact of the matter is, when I try to do that and listen to alot of this kind of music, it takes away from the volatility of the stuff that I know is already really good in the grindcore field, and recognized as such with good reason. To put it simply, a genre with this narrow of boundaries shouldn't be diluted with second rate garbage, listening to a band like Noisear to tame that Discordance Axis fix is the same as listening to Godsmack for the nostalgia of Alice In Chains. Throw that shit away and only fix when it's quality shit to fix with, in my ridiculous opinion you'll spot and appreciate the good stuff easier that way.
Book Burner is another appropriate chapter in the discography - I enjoy it. It's arguably the angriest of their records and thematically the most different. I can totally comprehend the naysayers and their arguments, I get it and I hear it - I'm not arguing that. I also understand that there are bands you want to see change and evolve and bands you don't. Pig Destroyer has flaunted all kinds of abilities in their albums and more-so their one off's like 'Natasha' and the 'Mass & Volume' EP. I'd love to see these guys get to a point in their career where they could release a noise album and have it be understood and accepted as a Pig Destroyer album. They're too good at getting under the skin to base their existence on riffs, speed, and shocking dialogue. I'd love to see what extremes they can twist the dark side of the human experience into through other channels of sound and hope they explore those dimensions. I'd love this band - and more importantly this band's fans - to embrace the idea of being able to do whatever they want and trust that they will deliver with tapping into a new perspective of something primal someday. Because extreme music can punish and heal no matter what instrument it comes from at any bpm. Yeah, and maybe there's a little bit of that blind love there too.


  1. put me in the disappointed camp, but i think it sounds like a band in transition that hasn't found its footing yet. i'm still mystified at blake harrison going MIA. i had high hopes for bringing in a full time noise guy. he joined after phantom limb was written so i hoped that being there from day one would give him a chance to help mold the music.

    as to the split of blogs vs. mainstream mags i think that comes down to their respective audiences. for my part, i pretty much expect my readers to be pretty well steeped in grind so they're going to be more discerning, hence them maybe being more critical. mainstream mags cater to general metal audiences who maybe pick up one or two grind albums a year. if you're that guy, book burner will probably blow your hair back. it's just a matter of perspective and expectations and discernment built by familiarity.

    i know as disappointed as i was, this is an album i still periodically turn to and struggle with even today. so i appreciate somebody stepping back way after that rush of first impressions to really give it another consideration the way you have.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read it, and I really appreciate the reply. That's the last I'll talk about it I promise. With the reaction being as strong as it was from the 'grindcore community', its got me still trying to figure out if I really do enjoy it (which I think I do) or I'm letting myself be duped by an unconditional appreciation of a band. I guess it doesn't really matter in the end.