Possessed of perhaps the best band name in modern metal, All Pigs Must Die occupy a rare space in the genre, company held by bands like Trap Them, Nails, and Midnight. It’s one of complete darkness, distilled rage bottled up in a molotov cocktail, a warthog from hell trapped in a steel cage. Comprising members of Converge, The Hope Conspiracy, Bloodhorse, and now Trap Them, All Pigs have grown from a don’t-call-it-a-side project to a force of nature in the metal scene, and on that so-crucial third full-length, Hostage Animal, stake their blood-soaked claim for individuality.
The music itself paints in only two shades: grey and darker grey. God is War and Nothing Violates This Nature had more firm footing in the familiar, crusty HM-2 sound coming out of Kurt Ballou’s GodCity Studio that we’ve become almost desensitized to since the first Trap Them album. By comparison, Hostage Animal is abstract. I’m not sure what they did to achieve the guitar tone on this album — it has the depth of Ballou’s trusty Emperor cabinets, just enough clarity to avoid total descent into noise, but with an added quality of chaotic nonsense, as though the tightly-written riffs aren’t even there.
In a sense it’s surprising, given that you’d think the addition of Trap Them guitarist/songwriter Brian Izzi would push the band more in the riff-based direction they followed on God is War. But Izzi’s addition is more felt than known, like the way King Crimson or Steely Dan incorporate members who weave themselves into the fabric of the band’s established sound. There’s a shade here and there on Hostage where I imagine he played a significant role (in particular, on the Trap Them-style choruses of songs like the title track), but the album itself is truly a group effort.
That being said, underneath it all is Ben Koller, the most dextrous drummer this side of Animal from the Muppets. He’s had quite a year considering we’ve got a Converge release in the pipeline and a much-lauded Mutoid Man album already on the books. But of all his projects, All Pigs Must Die is the one where he’s truly free to let loose. The accents and hits are clearly defined, and the drum beats themselves are pretty firmly rooted in hardcore and Arise-era Sepultura bursts, yet there’s a looseness in his playing that sounds totally effortless even in its fastest moments. Don’t laugh: album highlights like “Blood Wet Teeth” and “A Caustic Vision” have an almost jazz-like vibe in the drums. It’s as though, no matter how many notes Koller’s playing, there’s space left in between the smallest cracks. Pretty impressive stuff, the kind of drumming that nobody in metal outside of Mario Duplantier, Nick Yacyshyn, and Billy Rymer are capable of pulling off.
Hostage Animal isn’t quite the masterpiece that I believe All Pigs Must Die are capable of, but it is such a primal, raw piece of work, one that doesn’t fit so neatly into the narratives of modern heavy music. It’s a major step forward for the band, one that sees them occupying a strange, exciting space of almost progressive, abstract grind/hardcore.