THIS IS NOT A REVIEW OF PIG DESTROYER’S BOOK BURNER
Pig Destroyer’s Book Burner is the best metal album of the year.
I doubt that the members of Pig Destroyer have ever sat down and written a mission statement for internal use, but if they did, I imagine it would read something like this: “Be the best deathgrind band of all time.” Even if J.R. Hayes wasn’t one of the most thought-provoking lyricists in all of extreme music (more on that later), Book Burner would still be meaningful, because there’s profundity to be found in the expertness of PxDx’s craft. They are to metal as Richard Matheson is to literature or Alfred Hitchcock is to cinema; every single moment is so perfectly honed and well-designed to guide you to the next that the music takes on the effect of a page turner (excuse the allusion). And Book Burner — like all Pig Destroyer albums — is lean and athletic, clocking in at just over thirty minutes, not a millisecond of which is boring or wasteful. Its relatively brief running time means that while it’s relentless, it’s also not exhausting; you most assuredly will play this album on repeat, and you will probably do so a lot.
Riffmaster General Scott Hull continues to draw from a seemingly boundless well of muscular, vitriolic, putrid guitar parts that are like those little pieces of filth that dig in so deep under your fingernails they just won’t wash away, no matter how much soap you use or how hard you scrub. The riffs that fuel “The Diplomat” and “Valley of the Geysers” are instant classics, the kinds of riffs that you’ll hear adolescents just learning to play guitar butcher for years to come. (Bonus: “Geysers” begins with what is easily the most brutal count-off in the history of recorded music. I can’t remember the last time I derived such satisfaction from the simple sound of a guy yelling out numbers.) His production always sounds decidedly human, warts and all, which is more refreshing in 2012 than it has ever been before.
And Hull’s chemistry with new drummer Adam Jarvis is no less that which he shared with Jarvis’ predecessor, Brian Harvey. Hull and Harvey have to be one of the great teams in metal history; with no bassist or second guitarist to fill in the gaps, Pig Destroyer’s music is even more dependent on the symbiosis between guitarist and drummer than most. Jarvis has his own distinct sound and feel, one which is bigger and less tinny than Harvey’s, but when he locks in with Hull, the results are no less beautiful. There’s a section on the aptly-titled “Kamikaze Heart” where the music dips and ascends suddenly, the aural equivalent of a roller coaster designed with no greater purpose than to make you puke; “Dirty Knife” feels like a series of quick jabs from a… well… y’know. They can shift speeds on a dime (obviously), but they can also so do so with great subtlety, to the point where your brain might question whether or not it’s processing the incoming information correctly. On the dizzying “The Bug,” my personal favorite song on the album, they do both; one minute it almost sounds like you’re listening to a tape as it slowly melts, Hull playing notes that are just a little bit sour over an assault of Jarvis’ blast beats, and the next, there’s a stop/start section that, I swear to Christ, is just this side of being danceable.
Hull seems to take pleasure in allowing Jarvis moments to shine, too; album closer “Permanent Funeral” opens with a riff that is bound to remind every metal fan in the world of a certain Slayer classic about some unusual weather, and the simplicity of this riff allows Jarvis to go off and do nutty, creative, awesome things for an extended period of time; for a good minute or so, Jarvis basically is the song.
Meanwhile, Blake Harrison’s atmospherics enrich the entire experience, in ways both obvious and almost imperceptible without a good pair of earphones and a concentrated listen; there are moments where it almost sounds like someone is speaking underneath everything else that is going on. If you told me that Harrison put subliminal messages on the album, I’d almost believe you. (Be right back — I’m suddenly overcome with the urge to go buy some more Pig Destroyer merch.)
And then there’s Hayes. Holy shit, I love this dude. On Terrifyer and Phantom Limb, his voice was noticeably bathed in distortion; the production of his vocals on Book Burner sounds far more naturalistic — perhaps even more so than on Prowler — and, ironically enough, he sounds twice as horrifying as a result. (This is, after all, the man who once screamed over the music when his mic died, and somehow managed to do with so with enough volume so as to be heard. He must be possessed by some kind of goddamned demon or something.) Some well-placed cameos by Jarvis’ Misery Index bandmate Jason Netherton and Hull’s Agoraphobic Nosebleed comrades Kat Katz and Richard Johnson add flavor; there’s something especially satisfying about the interplay between Katz and Hayes, possibly because her voice is the most unlike Hayes’ own. There’s even one song, “Eve,” which, if I’m not mistaken, is actually all Katz and no Hayes, which lends a whole other layer of meaning to the track’s lyrical re-imagining of The Garden of Eden story (on account of Katz, y’know, being a lady).
Not that Hayes’ lyrics necessarily need a whole other layer of meaning. His lyrics are fucking brilliant; he has a unique ability to create phrases that are both highly unusual and yet immediately clear of intention (“I lead the life I want to lead/Like a reverse priest” he screams on “All Seeing Eye”), and I think people sometimes overlook the sharpness of his bleak gallows humor (From “The Diplomat”: “If you’re gonna have roads, you’re gonna have roadkill!”) and the way that humor is often simultaneously personal and political. Hayes is a master provocateur, a dude who approaches death metal and grind lyrics with the mindset of a true punk, and Book Burner often feels like his biggest middle finger to the world yet. (If I were Gene Shalit, I’d call the lyrics on Book Burner “inciteful.”) Hayes’ allegedly misogynistic poetry has been a source of controversy in the past, and it’s hard not to interpret Book Burner as, at least in part, a reaction to that controversy. You can’t even hear the phrase “book burner” without conjuring images of a mob of bigots standing around a bonfire, incinerating great works of art for idiotic reasons; the album opens with a sample from what sounds like a 1930s Reefer Madness-type “educational” film in which the narrator speaks of someone who is “dangerously angry one minute, rockin’ and rollin’ the next;” “The Bug” opens with the mellifluous voice of an older man (I haven’t been able to confirm the source yet, but my best educated guess is that it’s
Albert Finney in The Browning Version Nope, it ain’t! Sorry. -AR.) reading a variation of this (in)famous passage from Henry Miller’s highly controversial Tropic of Cancer in a manner so calm and confident as to be severely threatening:
“This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty… what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing. I will sing while you croak, I will dance over your dirty corpse…”
It’s clear that Hayes (and by extension, the entire band) has the ability of art to offend on his mind. Consequently, it’s impossible to listen to Book Burner and not recall “Jennifer,” the spoken-word track that opens Prowler in the Yard; that robotic narrator documented a debate as to whether “this is is disgusting, it’s pornography,” or “this is beautiful, this is art,” while the expressive voice reading Miller on Book Burner tells the listener flat out that this is not art, at least not the way you think — and wears that distinction as a badge of honor and a promise of triumphant destruction. Have Pig Destroyer finally reconciled the opposing forces of puritanical morality and artistic freedom? The question is interesting enough to render the answer borderline irrelevant. What is important is that more than ten years after the release of Prowler in the Yard, Pig Destroyer have not lost one iota of their ability to enrage, confuse, enlighten, and enthrall.
Pig Destroyer’s Book Burner comes out October 22 on Relapse; pre-order it here. The band will headline the third annual MetalSucks/Metal Injection/1000 Knives CMJ showcase on October 18, with support coming from KEN Mode, Early Graves, and Encrust; and tickets are on sale at this link.