Over its 15-year career, Pig Destroyer has earned a reputation for playing loud, fast and dirty. The Virginia band specializes in grindcore, a deceptively intricate breed of metal best known for its guttural screams, sinister down-tuned guitars and “microsongs” (tracks that cram the fury of a full-length song into 15 or 20 seconds). Listening to these guys for the first time can be a bit overwhelming. That hasn’t changed with the release of Book Burner, Pig Destroyer’s first release in five years. The frenzied screams of J.R. Hayes, the scathing guitars and the impossibly fast drumming comprise what can best be described as the aural equivalent of Jack The Ripper—striking suddenly with a madness that is intriguing and unsettling at the same time.
While we’re on the subject of serial killers, let’s talk about “Baltimore Strangler,” the centerpiece of the album and its biggest draw. It opens up with a sample of a dangerous, drawling man (one of several mood-setting choices by Blake Harrison), confessing, “I destroy homes. I tear families apart.” And that’s exactly what the song does: ambling along on a sludgy groove and periodically exploding in a mess of blast beats. “Baltimore Strangler,” “The Bug” (featuring Kat Katz of Agoraphobic Nosebleed fame) and “Permanent Funeral” are the only tracks that exceed the three-minute mark, and they’re essentially suites of the aforementioned microsongs, united by a common riff or, in the case of “The Bug,” a lacerating scream-along refrain.
It’s easy to look over songs like “The Underground Man” or “Totaled” (both under a minute), but, as with all good noise music, the magic’s in the mix. New drummer Adam Jarvis’s insane skills on the kit are understandably emphasized, while Hayes’s vocals are stripped of their usual sheen of distortion, sounding more organic and injecting some powerful emotion into the maelstrom. His lyrics are excellent too; read along with the liner notes, and you’ll find that the music is almost like an insane breed of punk poetry, one with breakdown to fill in the extended pauses.
Poetry? Pig Destroyer? Yeah, the connection may seem a bit silly at first, and it takes a few listens to get acquainted with Book Burner’s rough approach. But a lot of serious thought has gone into this album, and it shows, from the ambitious rhythmic style to the sinister aesthetic. It’s definitely not pop—more like battery acid—but in such talented hands, chaos becomes catchy.