The metal world is far different than it was just seven years ago. Agalloch was still a band, people still took Wintersun seriously, and this new beast called “metallic hardcore” was first rearing its HM2-powered head. Spearheaded by groups like Black Breath, Enabler, and (arguably) Nails, the style rejected the Gothenburg-inspired metalcore of the mid-00s by instead delivering a violent combination of frenetic metal riffing and pummeling hardcore fury. It was a sound that Massachusetts’s All Pigs Must Die embraced with open arms. A supergroup of sorts, Pigs formed in 2010 under the direction of Converge and Mutoid Man drummer Ben Koller along with current and former members of The Red Chord, Bloodhorse, and The Hope Conspiracy. Though their style was in vogue, they were hardly chasing a trend: works like the group’s self-titled EP and 2011 debut God Is War proved just as punishing and potent as anything produced by their brethren.
But times change. Breath have been quiet since releasing a largely mediocre death metal album two years ago, Enabler imploded around that same time, and even Pigs’ last record was Nothing Violates This Nature way back in 2013. In a world where the metallic hardcore vanguard has begun to falter, will third full-length Hostage Animal show these Pigs flying high or will they become just as tangled as that rat king on the cover? The only way to find out is to dive in.
Animal explodes immediately with the title track, wasting no time with an intro and quickly educating listeners on what the band is about: charging crust beats, furious blasting, guitars set to overdrive, and the enraged screams of Hope Conspiracy vocalist Kevin Baker. While riff-wise it’s not the most interesting song, the repeated vocal motif of “A black hole at the center of everything!” offers some fist-raising memorability. “A Caustic Vision” follows by turning the dial up further, breaking in with quick pounding chords that barrel forward like a rampaging mama bear. After some squealing tremolos, the song finally collapses into a devastating chug that’s sure to result in at least one broken nose when it’s played live. Late highlight “Blood Wet Teeth” follows a similar structure, beginning with a crunchy riff that moves into screaming Cult Leader dissonance before settling into its own face-destroying chug.
As was the case with Nature, it’s not all blasting and bashing. After three quick cuts, Pigs slow the tempo with “Slave Morality” and “End Without End,” two 5-plus minute tracks which sound more like Crowbar than Cursed. While “Morality” features some serious heft and wailing stoner metal leads, it ultimately feels like a slow burner that never quite scorches. “End” fares better, building from a tribal beat into high-pitched, oscillating notes before concluding with a dread-inducing riff that recalls a meaner Saturnus. Even “End,” however, stumbles midway through with an abrupt transition to clean picking that sounds like somebody randomly decided to start jamming Metallica’s “Fade to Black.”
At this point my ambivalence is probably obvious. Part of the problem is the slower songs: in addition to hurting the album’s pace by grinding it to a halt midway through, only “Cruelty Incarnate” feels like it effectively incorporates both facets of the band’s sound. Each of the other nine tracks is either fast and short or sludgy and long, resulting in two distinct styles that could have made things more interesting if they’d been better integrated. It also doesn’t help that several of the shorter tracks like “Meditation of Violence” lack interesting ideas and instead feel like they exist solely as a counterpoint to the slower tempos.
On the plus side, the 35-minute length and boomy, in-your-face production suit the style well, and the band’s vicious energy has hardly taken a hit in their four-year absence. In all Animal is by no means a bad album, just an enjoyable one with some notable issues. As always Pigs sound high on rage and low on mercy, and it certainly helps that tracks like closer “Heathen Reign” feature a bleak sense of melody which may be attributed to former Trap Them guitarist Brian Izzi joining the ranks. Fans will likely eat up Animal, as will those who enjoy similar acts like Full of Hell and Young and in the Way. It may have been a few years since metallic hardcore was truly fresh, but that doesn’t mean these Pigs should die just yet.
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Southern Lord Records
Websites: apmdsl.bandcamp.com | apmd-music.squarespace.com | facebook.com/apmdband
Releases Worldwide: October 27th, 2017