Pig Destroyer
Head Cage

I’m a little overdue on this one and frankly I didn’t really feel like chiming in with a review on Pig Destroyer’s latest platter of pain until some of the usual hype that comes with their releases died down.  They’re pretty much a love it or hate it proposition for most people at this point and album number six Head Cage isn’t about to change that fact.  Their brand of grinding, thrash-y noise-rock hasn’t been a more tangible form of what you could directly label as “grindcore” since Prowler in the Yard.  From Terrifyer onward, I’ve considered them as the type of band peddling an aggressive form of ragged, blown-amp hardcore that would have been right at home on Amphetamine Reptile somewhere between Hammerhead’s Into the Vortex, Unsane’s Scattered, Smothered and Covered and Today is the Day’s Self-Titled.  They just happen to have more straight metallic bits to their sound with the influence of thrash, grind, punk and doom spattered all over the inner walls of their backwater church.

Sometimes underutilized sampler/synth programmer Blake Harrison is given immediate spotlight on the opening grime drone of “The Tunnel under the Tracks.”  Everything is sampled from warnings about the exposure to PD’s sound to Conan the Barbarian while Harrison manipulates and distorts human screams and blasts of pained, harsh industrial soundscaping.  Direct connections can be made to Merzbow and Bastard Noise, more than anything else and it’s a suitable starting point for the album to come.  This piece uncorks a legion of rushing, drill sergeant thrash riffs and ugly downchurns from the band’s resident axe-master Scott Hull as first official song “Dark Train” blazes in and out of a black hole in barely a minute of playtime.  Adam Jarvis’ buttery blast beats race with heart-attack grace and plenty of double-bass to propel the song forth into a 50 car, pile-up wreck on the freeway where vocalist JR Hayes’ cold, calculated scream blares from a police megaphone.  John Jarvis’ bass provides a molasses-y bludgeon from beneath the underpass though Hull’s guitar and Adam’s drums are mixed so front n’ center that the low-end operates more like a fuzzy, subwoofer buzz than a lead instrument.  “Army of Cops” choppy staccato slaughter marries lockstep hardcore chugs to some Slayer-informed thrash and some dropped-down Helmet style syncopation.  Pure speed is traded for sludgy straight-edge groove slam in the second half hearkening back to the appearance of that element on Phantom Limb.  Even the vocals (as well the latter segment’s music) on this one at times remind me of Earth Crisis’ work circa Gomorrah’s Season Ends with more straight-metal atrocities laced throughout the band’s potent, punchy brand of audio arsenic.

“Circle River” employs high-pitched electronic signal decay that warps the gray areas around Scott’s hard-grooved, thrash/punk riffing.  The rocked out nature of the popping, rubbery drum smacks and the blackout drunk nature of the song’s palm-muted infectiousness strips Pig Destroyer’s aggression down to the rawest, primal marrow for what I consider to be their Viper Room-based, cowboy hat tip to Lemmy and Motörhead.  There’s an overload of boozy blues in every well-fortified riff and shifty drum beat to make for a kicking piece of work that benefits from a snarling Hayes performance that ends on a note of cryptic spoken word.  The freshly amputated hobble of “The Torture Fields” is all about a slow forest fire spread of desolate doom-sparks in the beginning with full-ignition coming via its grinding midsection derailment that eventually settles into the kind of militant thrashing employed by the band on past pieces like “Naked Trees” or “Crippled Horses.”  Vertebrae paralyzing blasts collide with lava crawl double-bass beatings during the off-balance whiplash of “Terminal Itch” which deftly balances modern grind’s clinical crunch with wiry, hardcore collapse.  A now rare guest appearance of death metal vocals in PD loaned from Kat Katz (ex-Salome and ex-Agoraphobic Nosebleed) boosts the acerbic carnage with some earthier, heftier shades.  She returns on the immediately following “Concrete Beast” with a polar opposite attack in the form of acidic screams so vile they could melt concrete.  Lurching grooves, stuttered rhythms and scalding feedback leads dually provided by Hull’s guitar and Harrison’s electronics further drench the nastiness in the kind of New York City neuroses pioneered by Unsane, Helmet and Barkmarket…if those bands were caught with their pants down having a dumpster orgy with Slayer and In the Eyes of God-era Today is the Day.

Further downstream the landfill spill-off pollutes “The Adventures of Jason and JR’s” textbook hardcore/thrash accuracy with smokestacks belching brief puffs of toxic grind into the razor-sharp Scott Hull/Adam Jarvis metal-centered interplay.  It’s odd that legendary grind vocalist Richard Johnson guests on “Army of Cops” because the unhinged standout “Mt. Skull” is the composition that most sounds like Johnson’s seminal Enemy Soil.  A war-wearied captain of the classic PD sound, this composition commands a brigade of lightspeed riffs, warped Ministry-leaned samples, machine gun blasts and gang vocal takedowns to regain a hilltop position unchallenged.  The track starts off with the climax and slowly whittles itself down to slower and slower trudges as it reaches an actual finish line of nuclear radiated groove.  Full of Hell’s Dylan Walker contributes poisoned-lung shouts to the super short, hardcore thrasher “Trapdoor Man.”  Siren shrieks of noise and the record’s most powerful and clearly heard bass line drives the jagged “The Last Song’s” stumbling in a daze intro; the smoldering thickness retained across the tracks galloping double-kick heavy tempos and tendonitis-inducing riff changes.  Vocally, JR’s slashing rage adopts a pinch of throatier midrange that slow burns your brain into oblivion.  A soaring, eagle-high melancholy melody lick in the key of Maiden yields some initial grandeur to vast closer “House of Snakes’” peaks and valleys roaming.  Huge bass riffs torpedo open the song’s belly as creepy samples slip into the track’s cautious, deliberate lead-in.  Dirty, giant slaying riffs meld equal parts thrash and doom with some excellent track-doubling creating the facsimile of multiple guitars.  The rhythm section is at its beefiest with Adam’s craggiest performance on the record (plenty of fills and jarring change-ups) while John is permanently visible in the mix; the ending result is a rusted and corroded combination of hardcore, doom, thrash and death metal influenced finish that shows just how well Pig Destroyer can work the mid-paced slop arena.

I know there was a lot of slagging of this album but I really enjoyed it, especially after I put it away for a while and came back to it a few months later.  It’s not perfect as the production is a bit unusual and watery sounding on the first few listens with a weird tone to it that feels a bit flat on a few songs…and a couple of tunes are just decent without pushing the envelope in anyway.  Yet the more I played Head Cage, the more I began to actually enjoy its quirky recording quality and right off the bat there were several tracks that I really fucking dug.  It’s kind of like PD’s fellow area band, the doom-legends Iron Man.  Their first release Black Night has a very strange production quality to it but the more time I spent with it, the more I began to enjoy those offbeat nuances and mix choices.  No, PD aren’t really a pure grindcore band when you do all the math, no Head Cage isn’t their best work and no it’s not infallible even for what it is but I found a lot to like here.  The songs I like, I really like and it’s overall an enjoyable, pissed off record that I find to be a solid increase in quality after the rather pedestrian Book Burner album.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jay S
May 14th, 2019

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