I know what you’re thinking, Grier reviewing a grindcore band? Bullshit, right?! It’s a little-known fact that I actually enjoy the genre. I rarely review it—or should I say, never review it. I may not be Kronos, our tech and grind enthusiast, but there’s something about the shove-it-down-your-throat chaos of the style that gets me. So, here I stand, having emerged from the grindcore woodwork, to review the newest outing from everyone’s favorite grindcore giant, Pig Destroyer. Or, what I mean is everyone’s favorite grindcore giant to love or hate. After six full-lengths over twenty years, we’ve seen Scott Hull, et al. travel far beyond their full-length debut, Explosion in Ward 6. Hell, they’ve even pulled themselves away—to many o’ fan’s disappointment—from the iconic sound of 2001’s Prowler in the Yard. But, how far is too far? Is Head Cage another pork roast or is it something more? Or less…?
The first thing Pig Destroyer fans will notice on Head Cage is its tracklist. Turns out its runtime and track length are much like 2007’s Phantom Limb. Which, I know is not the comparison many of you wanted to hear. The other thing fans will notice is that this fucker is mighty heavy. While a heavy-as-hell attitude has always been their game—especially on Phantom Limb and Book Burner—the sound on Head Cage is more intense. This is due to a couple of things: Hull’s deathy, sometimes thrashy, songwriting, as well as the inclusion of a bass guitar.1 This combination, along with its twelve-track length, results in one of the more-concise, focused, and heaviest albums the band’s ever put to tape.
That said, it isn’t until you pass the two-and-a-half minutes of noise and vicious bludgeoning—”Tunnel Under the Tracks” and “Dark Train,” respectively—that Scott Hull begins showing off his newfound love for more involved songwriting and his desire to maximize riff after headbanging riff. And he, as well as the rest of the band, do this via “Army of Cops.” At first glance, “Army of Cops” seems like an ordinary PD song. Hell, it even sports backing vocals from Agoraphobic Nosebleed‘s Grindfather Johnson. Which has become typical for a PD release. But, after taking a quick inhale, it lets out of roar that charges and chugs hard, leaving skull-sized indentations in the pavement. It’s a simple, calculated attack that proves the band is capable—after all these years—of reeling it in and taking control of their blitzkrieg.
Other tracks that share the same intensity and riff-upon-riff brutality of “Army of Cops” are “The Torture Fields” and “House of Snakes.” “The Torture Fields” is a solid-steel staircase, with each landing being home to another thrashy, headbanging riff. And, goddamn, is that top landing worth the climb. Closer “House of Snakes” is also crafted in steel, but it’s a seven-minute climb. This one builds like no other song on the album, growing like a swamp thing out of a tar pit. After opening with a reverberating Master of Puppets-era Metallica intro, the song transitions from a frilly, headbangable, stop-start thunderstorm to a bowling-ball hailstorm. Though these riff factories aren’t altogether new for PD,2 there’s definitely a calculated intensity here.
The rest of the album is an interesting mix of tracks that, while predictable, add good variety. “The Adventures of Jason and JR” becomes more intense with every passing minute and is bound to lay you out on your ass. “Mt. Skull” is a crushing grind piece that teases death metal enthusiasts with its classic galloping outro, while “Terminal Itch” (with the help of ANB‘s Kat Katz) is a one-minute, death metal machine. “Concrete Beast” is the most diverse in vocals (thanks again to Kat), even if its riffs meander too much. Yet, it, as well as “The Last Song,” show off how well PD‘s new bass can play. The most surprising song on the record, though, has to be “Circle River.” It’s like a child spawned from a sick night of Pig Destroyer humping the hell out of Corrosion of Conformity. It’s a nifty song but, damn, PD‘s never seen so much sludge.3
Like I said before, Prowler and Terrifyer fans won’t get what they want from Head Cage. But fans itching for variety following Phantom Limb and Book Burner might get a kick out of this. It’ll never out-wit their old stuff but Head Cage is a cool record that finds the band scratching outside their comfort zone. It’s not perfect but when it hits, it hits hard.
- That’s right. Up until now, there has never been a bass on a PD album. ↩
- See songs like Terrifyer‘s “Carrion Fairy” and “Restraining Order Blues,” as well as Phantom Limb‘s “Loathsome” and “Alexandria.” ↩
- Btw… for those of you that can’t help themselves but suggest other bands in the comment section, here’s one for you. JR is wearing a Sex Prisoner t-shirt in the promo pic. It’s a favorite from Tucson, AZ. Go check them out. ↩