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Pig Destroyer - Book Burner

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Artist: Pig Destroyer

Album: Book Burner

Label: Relapse

Review date: Oct. 15, 2012

The members of D.C.’s Pig Destroyer may take their time to put out records — Book Burner is the first since 2007’s Phantom Limb — but their long-players are invariably lean and focused (or perhaps better to say: targeted). This one’s got 19 tracks in just over a half hour, for example. Sure, part of this is due to the conciseness of their chosen idiom fusing death metal and grindcore: the short, blunt tunes favored by practitioners are inherently opposed to the longueurs of other forms of metal. But it’s mostly a function of how assured guitarist Scott Hull and crew are as songwriters, crafting tunes with durations of under a minute that are dense with information but pared down for impact, or knowing when to build materials to the comparably epic length of three of four minutes.

And it really is about impact on Book Burner, as elsewhere with PxDx. It’s music that makes you want to break shit, no matter how technically sublime or flowing (just check the near-swing on “Permanent Funeral”). But what’s always grabbed me about this band is their attention to texture and the sonic superstructure, not just the rhythmic base. To wit: while a lot of grind bands like to play around with samples (usually some perfunctory horror movie slice, or a line of dialogue from a mob movie, preferably one delivered just before administering an act of violence), the addition of electronics/noise ace Blake Harrison several years back has paid off big-time in that it gives a kind of thrumming menace or claustrophobia to most of these tracks (hear this most effectively on “Valley of the Geysers”).

Concise and fierce, the tracks live in the interplay between Hull’s imaginative, coiling riffs and vocalist J.R. Hayes’ sheerly misanthropic shrieks and barks. He’s gotten far from the creepy violence imagery and borderline misogyny of some of the band’s earlier efforts, and now — without sacrificing any of his unsettling delivery — writes lyrics that muse more abstractly about philosophical issues (“All Seeing Eye” or “Machiavellian,” for example, or the short story that comes with the digital edition of Book Burner). Here and there, he’s joined by some esteemed guest vocalists: Richard “Grindfather” Johnson on “Underground Man,” Kat Katz from Agoraphobic Nosebleed (and formerly of Salome) on “Eve” and “The Bug,” and Misery Index’s Jason Netherton on “The Diplomat.” Good stuff from them, but what gets you about this release — from the bludgeoning opener “Sis” on — is its rhythmic distinction from the band’s previous recordings. In places, there’s a far more pronounced hardcore influence (even some specifically NYC hardcore nods at that, as on the galloping “The Underground Head”), while elsewhere (pretty much everywhere else) there’s a jaw-dropping death-tech adrenaline shot courtesy of new drummer Adam Jarvis, a bandmate of Netherton’s in fellow DMV heathens Misery Index who’s got a real feel for velocity and precision. His unearthly blast beats seem to goad Hull into some of his most unhinged riffing: check out the chugging at the end of “The American’s Head” or the relentless “Baltimore Strangler” (which expands the hardcore influence back to D.C. for a few measures here and there).

But Pig Destroyer is also evincing a greater playfulness with extended form (“Permanent Funeral”) and choppy, jittering, almost proggy rhythms (“All Seeing Eye” and the powerful “Machiavellian”) instead of their usual mutated breakdowns and volleys (though they’ve got these in abundance, much to my satisfaction, as on the jagged “Totaled”). There’s some sludge indulgence on the downtuned head-scrambler “Iron Drunk,” and some pretty impressive dynamism elsewhere, as with the crazy sound of harmonic blades at the end of “King of Clubs.” There may not be a single tune here that’s quite on the level of “Piss Angel” or “Gravedancer,” but as a whole Book Burner may be as focused and relentless as anything they’ve yet released.

By Jason Bivins

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