Coming after a 3 year break since 2008’s Natasha EP with and 2007’s Phantom Limb full length Book Burner, Pig Destroyer’s latest, is easily one of the most anticipated metal albums of the year. The band has always taken a long time between albums, but they came close to breaking up last year with the departure of drummer Brian Harvey, who had been with them since 2001. It’s easy to hastily proclaim albums released after a hiatus as the best thing the band has ever done, but in this case it is hard to resist: Book Burner is a riveting listen from start to finish.
The main reason is that the album sounds qualitatively different than previous releases despite having a similar template: 19 songs in 31 minutes, one singer, one guitarist, one drummer, and a member doing electronics. The change is due in big part to new drummer Adam Jarvis of Baltimore’s technical death metal stalwarts Misery Index. Jarvis’ playing at times sounds like someone throwing a drum set down a set of stairs in a very precise way. He is a much less linear drummer than Harvey which, as good as the band’s older material is, seems to work even better. Pig Destroyer thrives on breakneck changes in the songs, aided by production that cuts off sharply at the end of every section, making every change seem much more abrupt. Jarvis complements the controlled chaos of the band, turning short, deceptively simple, songs into mini epics which require numerous listens to wrap one’s head around.
Another major change to the sound is Scott Hull’s increasingly technical guitar riffs. The guy is massively underrated as a guitar player and seeing him live confirms this. He’s written weird little riffs into the songs such as the beginning of “Machiavellian” and the little breaks in “King of Clubs,” inserting them judiciously to keep the listener on his toes. Hull handles the band’s signature breakdowns (such as the one in “White Lady” well): without the usual grindcore or death metal tropes and something of a twist to every riff.
On Book Burner, PD have also brought in a number of guest vocalists. Jarvis’ Misery Index band mate Jason Netherton appears on “The Diplomat,” and Katherine Katz, of Northern Virginia’s late, great Salome and Hull’s side project Agoraphobic Nosebleed, is on “Eve” and “The Bug.” Katz is a welcome surprise: you really just don’t hear girls singing in grindcore bands all that often. Richard “The Grindfather” Johnson, also of Agoraphobic Nosebleed and frontman of Drugs of Faith (full disclosure: I play bass in DoF) is heard on the brief “The Underground Man” and various screams from him are sprinkled throughout the album. Katz and Johnson both made appearances on 2004’s Terrifyer; it’s cool to hear them back in the mix.
Pig Destroyer has always stood apart from the faceless slew of grindcore bands by having a sound that is more brutal than most, due to their incredibly tight playing but also, paradoxically, the fact that they have much clearer production than most. Nothing gets lost on Book Burner, partly due to the fact that the guitar does not have to compete with a bass in Scott Hull’s impeccable mix (Hull does double duty, handling production duties for Pig Destroyer, as well as approximately a million other metal bands). What really sets the riffs apart, of course is Hull’s playing, each riff both catchy and complex AND heavy as hell. The band’s choice of lyrical content is also commendable: not content with the post-Carcass blood and guts tropes of most grind, JR Hayes’ lyrics are intensely personal and his singing is relatively clear and understandable. Blake Harrison’s electronics add a sense of foreboding to song intros, breaking up the album in a satisfying way.
For a lot of bands the dictum that “less is more” results in massively boring, sterile, releases. With Pig Destroyer the opposite is the case. These guys know exactly what they’re doing and how to do it and their new lineup and the resulting album is a testament to that.