posted on 10/2012 By:
The first few times I sat down to try and write about this new Pig Destroyer album, I will admit, friends, that I had a bad attitude. I had already formulated a number of critiques of the album based on my first three or four listens, and was starting to wind myself up into a haughty, arm’s-length-type critical lather. However, while there are still substantive problems with Book Burner, the more I listened – and, even more importantly, the louder I listened – the less crippling those critiques became. Part of me still recoils from the laughably over-the-top hype that this album has generated, but it has become easier to parse that hype – easier to separate the endless, venal PR-flogging and label-fluffing from the genuine excitement of this band’s many devoted fans who have been waiting an anxious five years for this.
Here, then, is an initial hypothesis: Pig Destroyer’s staggered album output is self-defeating, or at least counterproductive. (I refer to their staggered album output rather than their “work ethic,” because several of the band’s members have clearly kept themselves quite busy with other bands and projects, and one must assuredly make exceptions for the trifling intrusiveness of this thing we sometimes call “real life.” Heavy metal never sleeps, but sometimes it needs to take a back seat.) To explain: The near-fanaticism of the band’s well-earned fan base, coupled with the increasing wait between albums, means that it has become difficult to approach Book Burner as it should be approached, which is simply as a new album of fast, angry songs from one of the world’s finest grindcore bands.
If you can cut through the maze of hyperbole to take this album on those terms, here’s what you will find: Pig Destroyer remains as caustic and reckless a proposition as ever, and Scott Hull further burnishes his status as a riffmaker of absolutely kingly proportions. The impressive thing about Pig Destroyer, however, has always been not simply how turbocharged and shit-kicking the riffs are individually, but rather how masterfully the band can write a complete song in the span of a minute or so. On that topic: Phantom Limb had only one song under a minute, which was partially indicative of a continuing shift, already begun in earnest on Terrifyer, away from frantic grinding and toward a greater emphasis on breakdowns, grooves, and occasional rock and roll heroics. Book Burner, while certainly not eschewing the slithering grooves of longer-form songwriting, has five tracks that clock in under a minute, and the album gains a jittery intensity from that fact.
These are not quite the flailing bursts of Prowler in the Yard, however, where the manic, whiplashed insanity occasionally obscured the gape-eyed amazement one felt upon realizing just how fully the band had fleshed out a particular song in barely thirty seconds. Thus, on Book Burner, rather than the simple return of more abbreviated blasts, what impresses is the band’s skill at sequencing the album into separately digestible chunks of several songs – the opening salvo of “Sis” through “The Diplomat,” for example, or the particularly surging sprint toward the end of the album, from “Dirty Knife” through “King of Clubs.” The internal dynamics of each song retain an identity, but their careful assembly gives the listener periodic signposts to help orient her in the midst of the album’s generally pummeling approach.
Another bit of good news results from being able to confirm that Pig Destroyer’s new drummer Adam Jarvis (of Misery Index) is a rather seamless patch for Brian Harvey. He is as equally adept at the heads-down grinding blasts as he is at the amped-up rock and roll grooves, and shows excellent restraint and malleability throughout, sometimes pumping in fills and unexpected cymbal patterns where appropriate, but sometimes just getting out of the way to help lead the band through a collective ritardando (see “White Lady”). Jarvis handles the nearly inhuman precision required by Hull’s exacting, whetstone-sharpened riffing with a deft – and very human – finesse.
As I said, however, there are a few problems. Although the production is generally powerful and impressive, the more rounded bottom-end of Hull’s guitar tone from Phantom Limb has been pulled back, which feels like a bit of a stylistic regression. Furthermore, Blake Harrison’s samples are intrusive and irritating. Perhaps it’s just a matter of personal taste, but I don’t particularly need a Pig Destroyer record to feel like a Mortician record. More important, however, is the fact that some of these songs just drag. I’m far from a breakdown-shunning purist, but it really feels like some of the longer songs on Book Burner are needlessly focused on mining a mid-tempo groove, most notably “Baltimore Strangler” with its lurching midsection, and the chug-abusing strains of “The Diplomat” (even though its woozy, stop-time section is quite effective). Again, if you crank it up loud enough to drown out the nagging critical part of your brain, it becomes less of an issue.
One of the most troubling aspects of Book Burner, however, is JR Hayes’s lyrics. At best his writing here is simply disappointing, but at worst it can come across as embarrassingly topical, political, and heavy-handed. It’s not just that his subject matter has changed to include somewhat more standard fare like politics, drugs, gambling, the media, drunks, and the generally downtrodden – obviously, far be it from me to tell the guy he can’t adapt. Nevertheless, his ability to come up with a perfectly evocative phrase is too rarely on display, and the diseased lyricism of his previous writing has all but vanished, replaced mostly with rather dry observations or subjectless vagaries. Even so, Hayes remains a remarkably accomplished vocalist, so this drop-off in lyrical quality only really matters if you happen to be reading along (or if, like me, you’re simply a nerd for words).
Despite those criticisms, the decision to endorse Book Burner whole-heartedly is an effortless one. Pig Destroyer’s grindcore is still a staunchly skin-flaying delight, and the album, experienced as a whole, presents a complete experience, from the mosh-inciting opening of “Sis” to the suspiciously “Raining Blood”-copping “Permanent Funeral.” Perhaps most tellingly, one of Book Burner’s most stormingly triumphant moments is “Burning Palm,” which concludes with a ripping drum cascade and a throaty bellow from Hayes (repeated twice, which is about as close to a chorus as Pig Destroyer gets): “I’m indomitable!” Well, damn it all if that ain’t pretty much the truth.
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