Pig Destroyer – “BOOK BURNER” Review

Pig Destroyer – Book Burner
Genre: Grindcore

Label: Relapse Records

Five years. Five long years. Five long years waiting for a new Pig Destroyer album, the time has passed slowly, almost painfully, spent wondering just when Scott Hull will bring the guys back together, give noisegrinders Agoraphobic Nosebleed a rest and concentrate on one of his more serious projects. It’s October in 2012, the boys are back. 

For those new to the band, Pig Destroyer are a four-piece grind monster mainly hailing from Richmond, Virginia and they have been making and playing some of the darkest grindcore for fifteen years. Currently, the members are made up of originators J.R. Hayes (vocals), Scott Hull (guitar) and Blake Harrison (noise/samples) and the newest addition Adam Jarvis (drums) of Misery Index. Although in extreme metal fifteen years may not be that much, Pig Destroyer have undoubtedly released some of the most monumental and game-changing albums in the genre; especially with 2001’s psychotic and anxiety-filled “Prowler In The Yard”.

The band came into existence out of the demise of Enemy Soil, which featured Hayes and Pig Destroyer’s second drummer Brian Harvey. Hayes and Hull decided to start a new band, along with drummer John Evans, who was only in his teens. The band stayed as a three-piece up until 2006, when the band began playing with ideas of an electronic addition to the band, via noise or samples, eventually settling with ex-Triac vocalist Harrison on those duties.

“Book Burner” is their fifth studio album so far and is made up of 19-tracks, running in at just under 32-minutes. If you’re hoping for a return to the gritty “Prowler In The Yard” or “Explosions In Ward 6” material, then stop hoping now. This album has more a similarity to the song lengths and structures of “Terrifyer” but with the clean production of “Phantom Limb”.

While the album title might give the impression that it might be a religious concept album, the first track Sis dismisses it. A song about the narrator’s sister who has stopped taking her meds and breaks out of a mental home, with aid from the narrator, lyrically starting the album at a sinister place. The track starts with a film reel rolling as a sample voice says “Dangerous one minute, rocking and rolling the next”, which sums up the album pretty well.

The American’s Head follows and is only 49-seconds long, full of second long drum fills, changing riffs and Hayes’s barking vocals. Then there’s the even shorter The Underground Man, which features leading vocals from Agoraphobic Nosebleed vocalist (and ex-Enemy Soil member) Richard Johnson. His distinct and unmistakeable vocals, while great and suitable to the madness of Pig Destroyer, these moments sound much nearer to Agoraphobic Nosebleed material, especially with Hull’s guitarwork and the first-person lyrics “I used to have a family / I used to be sane / Now I walk the sewers / A virus in the Earth’s veins”. This is not to say these moments are bad, but feel misplaced.

Fourth track Eve is the first track to feature another guest vocalist, this time Agoraphobic Nosebleed and ex-Salome’s Katherine Katz, who’s vocals are still great for band’s aesthetics (remember Lost Cause from “Terrifyer”?), even if the lyrics are really plain for Pig Destroyer. The ripping verocity makes what could have been a sub-standard track into (though not the best on here) a memorable one nonetheless. The Diplomat follows with a chugging mid-pace riff, while double bass drums just speed onwards, and the lyrics are more thoughtful than the previous tracks, especially with “If you’re gonna have roads / You’re gonna have roadkill”. Jason Netherton vocals add another dynamic, but like with Johnson’s voice, it doesn’t feel like a Pig Destroyer song in that aspect.

All Seeing Eye returns to the short song style and suffers from being forgettable, with no attention-gripping qualities, and Valley Of Geysers perhaps has the only cringeworthy moments in Pig Destroyer’s history: a count in. Despite that pretty horrible idea, the track has a head-banging guitar groove that will get you air-chugging, with those signature inhuman flicks on the double-bass, fluent like rolling three fingers on a table. Machiavillain bursts straight into grindcore gear, although again, there’s nothing that really gets you wanting to repeat the track.

Baltimore Strangler, in contrast, is one of the highlights of the album, and one of the longer tracks. Lyrically, this is the closest thing you can expect to a return to “Prowler In The Yard”, concentrating on the themes of loneliness and one-way love, opening with lines “She’s got a neck that’s built for my hands / The way a pine grows for the saw / They say I hate women / They couldn’t be more wrong” and ending “I lost her in the crowd when the O’s game let out / I never saw that girl again / It’s a shame / I just wanted to hold her like an anaconda”. The stalkerish guitar is almost the anthem of a serial killer prowling for his victim – it’s Book Burner’s version Starbelly, but faster.

The eleventh track, White Lady, seems to be about the uncomfortable situation of meeting with a dealer, with gangmembers appearing at the end. The pure speed and viciousness of both the guitar and drum parts mounts up to a punishing ordeal, and almost scary precision as they both slow down in unison. Then there’s The Bug, another highlight of the album. It opens with reverbed electronics as a sample of a scornful speech from the film Tropic Of Cancer is played, eventually drums kick in and the track continues in true Pig Destroyer fashion. However, there are moments where both Hayes and Kat Katz both scream “Why, why”, and during those moments, Jarvis kicks the double bass into a mili-second drill impersonation, which is nothing short of breathtaking.

Iron Drunk, a track literally about a strong drunk, is another track that feels more like an ANb track although Harrison’s vocals are a nice touch, and Burning Palm is just a track that feels disjointed, although the drum rolls at about 1:29 are beautiful! Dirty Knife is another dark love story, this time seemingly concerning S&M taken to dangerous level, and Hull’s riffs are low and dark. The 42-second Totaled follows, another grindcore flurry that seems to pass with no real strikes.

Kamikaze Heart, a song that seems to give a nod back to “Terrifyer”‘s lyrical themes, and Hayes especially sounds like a wounded beast on a frenzy. Then King Of Clubs takes a look at the desperate and shameful gambling addiction of a family man, with some discordant high-end sweep, which is pretty grabbing. Finally, we have Permanent Funeral, which opens like Slayer worship – never something to complain about. The main riff is just so confident and strong, and the splash cymbals are used aplenty with the mid-pace snare beats, the drums just sounds so full and organic, and Hayes opens his piece barking “Deep inside I’m just a wolf / Trying to walk upright”.  Just a really nice ending for an album.

Despite the complaints, this is a really good album, by its own right. Is there anything terrible about this album? No, but there are disappointments: Hayes’s undeniable gift for writing dark poetry stumbles at times on here, and in comparison to past lyrics, some here are below his usual standard. Also, the count in on Valley Of The Geysers is almost unforgivable, and is way too out of place on a Pig Destroyer album, let alone any album that is meant to be dark.

Other than that, it’s a good album. If you compare it to the rest of their work, that you love, then you will find things to complain about, but things are different: have Pig Destroyer ever made the same album twice? No, and this isn’t an exception. This isn’t “Phantom Limb”, “Terrifyer” or “Prowler In The Yard” and it doesn’t mean it’s lesser quality. Yes, the band are at their cleanest here, but “Book Burner” is still a heavy and punishing record, and shows no sign of the grind monsters slowing down. Definitely worth checking out for any grind fans in general.

8.7/10
Favourite tracks: The Bug, Baltimore Strangler, Permanent Funeral.

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