This is going to be a tough one to write. Pig Destroyer are bar none one of the best bands on the planet. They redefined grindcore with 2001’s Prowler In The Yard, took groove to a whole new level with 2004’s Terrifyer, and rejuvenated thrash with 2006’s Phantom Limb. So it was with painful anticipation that grind fanatics everywhere waited over half a decade for them to release what was sure to be the death/grind record of the year, Book Burner. And it pains me to say it but, it may be the biggest let down of the year.
Here’s 6 reasons why:
- The Production: Pig Destroyer’s driving force and mastermind Scott Hull is not only one of the greatest bastions of riffage the world has had the privilege of experiencing over the past 15 years, but he is one of the most respected producers extreme music has to offer. So it is with much regard that I must say WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED TO THE LOW END?! Grind is one of the only genres in music where the bass can be an afterthought and still pack a punch more powerful than the most compressed and over-saturated metal on the planet. I have never listened to a Pig Destroyer record and longed for a bassist. Hull’s riffs are so pungent and powerful that the addition of a bassist would be redundant and the production of their records has always catered specifically to that. On Book Burner however, the production is so paper thin that the absence of low end is downright irritating. The songs never seem to be fully realized at any point; you’re constantly left with the feeling that the song is building up to something bigger, waiting for it to really kick in before realizing that the song is over and it never really got there. “Iron Drunk” is the epitome of this. The opening riff builds over syncopated tom fills to… the same one-dimensional riff over a different drum part. The whole song seems unfinished. “The Diplomat” is another prime example; bouncing from one unfulfilled riff to the next, leaving the listener with the worst blue balls of the year.
- The Riffs: I’ll start off by saying that Hull’s riffs are never a complete let down. He somehow continues to come up with some of the chunkiest and most inventive riffs in metal after all these years and nothing he writes will ever be a total failure in my opinion. That said, I feel like Book Burner is comprised of all the discarded riffs he’s written over the years. They reek of ideas that haven’t fully come to fruition. It’s so unlike him that it bothers me more than it would if any other songwriter did this. Most of the riffs don’t seem to fit together in any coherent manner; it’s like he threw a bunch of riffs in a hat and pulled them out at random.
- The (lack of) Cohesiveness: I mentioned it above: the album really has no distinct path from beginning to end. You could mix and match any of the songs on the album and it would still have the same lackluster effect. It’s almost as if it’s put together like a B-sides album; a bunch of EPs released as a collection in order to make them more readily available to the fans. It feels like Hull and co. were trying real hard to recreate the spastic nature of Prowler but failed to realize that what made that album so great was its controlled and thought out chaos. BB feels more like a mish-mash of songs attempting pandemonium than a cohesive piece of abnormality.
- It’s Unmemorable: This sort of ties in to the points above in that the lack of togetherness and earth-shattering riffs leave you wanting, but try as I might, no matter how many times I listen to the album, I struggle to recollect any moments that really stand out to me. There are riffs here and there that I remember liking (“The Bug” for instance) but they are so few and far between that as a whole I find myself forgetting the bulk of the record because it never really demands my attention at any point.
- The Drums: Some bands can go through members like tampons and the audience won’t bat an eye. Drummers are notorious for passing in and out of bands (especially in grindcore) and it’s rare when you can honestly say you miss them. Brian Harvey was not one of those drummers. His style is so distinctive and so much a part of the PxDx sound that, upon mention of his departure, the undeniable feeling in my gut was that Pig Destroyer would never be the same. I hate to say that I was right. This is in no way me condemning Adam Jarvis’ abilities behind the kit–the man is a fucking monster, more than capable of playing Harvey’s parts–it’s just that his performance feels more like he was reading sheet music while recording rather than putting his own stamp on the songs. The style is still very much Brian’s, it’s just that when he executes them there’s this palpable intensity about them, like a runaway train about to go off the tracks at any moment, and that always lent a sense of urgency and bedlam to their sound. I read that all of the drum parts were pre-recorded by Scott Hull with his drum machine, so Jarvis came into the band with 98% of his music already written and I think that may be why the drums sounds so insincere. You can’t emulate somebody else’s style without feeling like it’s phoned in. And unfortunately that’s exactly how Book Burner feels.
- The Fucking Production: I’m sorry, I know this isn’t really “another” reason why I’m disappointed with the album, but I just can’t get past it. WHERE IS THE MOTHERFUCKING LOW END?!? You’re better than this, Pig Destroyer. So much better…
One thing that definitely is not a disappointment are the vocals. J.R. Hayes still reigns supreme as the vocalist/lyricist to beat in the world of metal. His vocals are (for once) not over-produced and he sounds more menacing than ever. You can feel the unrelenting pain and anger with every throat-shredding scream, and his lyrics are so morbidly enigmatic and ethereal you’ll find yourself awe-inspired one moment and nauseated the next. Just the way I like it.
The guest spots are pretty killer, too. Surprisingly enough, my favorite song on the album doesn’t even feature Hayes’ vocals. “Eve” features shrieks by Agoraphobic Nosebleed‘s Y chromosome-less counterpart Katherine Katz, who is slowly becoming one of my favorite vocalists on the planet. Her screams are painful and downright scary and she carries “Eve” with a beautiful urgency the propels the song to new and terrifying heights. The album also features Jason Netherton (vocalist/bassist in Jarvis’ full time gig Misery Index) and Richard Johnson (also of Agoraphobic Nosebleed and Drugs Of Faith fame) who both deliver some killer performances on “The Diplomat” and “The Underground Man” respectively.
At the end of the day this is still a Pig Destroyer record, which means that by and large it still topples over most extreme music out there. I just have high expectations for a band of this caliber and not only did they not live up to their own reputations, they even failed to meet a lot of others’. With so much fantastic, ground-breaking, and pummeling grind released over the past few years, it hurts to say that PxDx won’t be topping out my year-end list. Here’s to the next one. I know they’ve got something better in them.
Book Burner – 6.5/10
2. The American’s Head
3. The Underground Man
5. The Diplomat
6. All Seeing Eye
7. Valley Of The Geysers
8. Book Burner
10. Baltimore Strangler
11. White Lady
12. The Bug
13. Iron Drunk
14. Burning Palm
15. Dirty Knife
17. Kamikaze Heart
18. King Of Clubs
19. Permanent Funeral
Favorite Song: Eve
Book Burner is out now on Relapse Records. Buy it here.