Pig Destroyer is back with the follow-up to their 2012 opus, Book Burner. Since the band needs no introduction, let’s just dig right in.
First thing’s first: this is not your momma’s Pig Destroyer.
There are several changes that pertain to that statement. First of all, Pig Destroyer now has a bass player: John Jarvis (Scour, Agoraphobic Nosebleed.) His presence means that on top of the already heavy Scott Hull / Adam Jarvis / Blake Harrison weight, you get the full mass of a thick bass. This makes the band’s sound infinitely heavier – I mean, with the way that it is produced, Head Cage is leveling buildings.
This goes hand-in-hand with the way the music has changed as well. This Pig Destroyer, while recognizable as such, is much more versatile than before and is able to mix together many different influences into a coherent whole. You have your usual grindcore and hardcore, of course, but then you have a very pronounced death metal influence coming through more clearly. Then there are the grooves – Circle River, the latter half of Army of Cops and Concrete Beast and even parts of The Adventure of Jason and JD are replete with grooves. Hull and the Jarvises bring it, hard, and J.R. Hayes’ signature screams tie everything up in a very nice bundle.
Adam Jarvis gets special mention here. I thought that (in Book Burner) his style was a touch more straightforward vis-a-vis Brian Harvey’s and that this gave songs a bit more stability, but took some getting used to. This, when coupled with the shifts in Head Cage help him to not only shine more, but bring a drive and heaviness to the album and provides the necessary backbone for the deviations the band makes. It’s almost as if, by stepping outside of their usual niche, the band gave him impetus to be more pronounced. Just check out Circle River or The Torture Fields to see what I mean.
But, Head Cage, of course, isn’t perfect.
Coming in right after the more classic Pig Destroyer song Terminal Itch, Concrete Beast loses the plot. Its struggle to get going, despite the angular, start-stop riffs being quite good, meanders and snaps the listener out of the trance induced by Head Cage so far and the album’s flow is then broken. It’s followed by The Adventure of Jason and JD that tries to walk the line between new and old Pig Destroyer, but leans heavily on the old side. Mt. Skull and Trap Door Man are both more familiar territory. Now, don’t get me wrong, with the exception of Concrete Beast, these are all top-notch songs. But their familiarity is a bit much in an album that was moving forward and into broader pastures without much trouble.
And then you have the oddball The Last Song that gives both John Jarvis and Blake Harrison to shine, the latter bringing some tripped-out atmospherics into the deal. Of course, that is not the last song on where: that’d be the 7-minute opus, House of Snakes that pools together everything in Head Cage as well as previous releases (just without the ambient…) in a magnificent whole and makes the clearest statement the band can ever hope to make, saying: “This is Pig Destroyer. This is us.”
Head Cage is definitely a step forward. It’s a (halfway) different Pig Destroyer, a movement to the world outside their usual niche, executed with skill and definitely has a hard bite. Fans will definitely be divided on the more unique aspects of this, but there will be those who dig it. Newcomers to Pig Destroyer should also check it out for a taste of where they are and a touch of where they used to be. Very highly recommended.
J.R. Hayes – vocals
Scott Hull – guitars
Adam Jarvis – drums
Blake Harrison – synthesizer, samples
John Jarvis – bass