Pig Destroyer Throw Away the Grindcore Rulebook on 'Head Cage'

Photo: Joey Wharton

BY Denise FalzonPublished Sep 5, 2018

Virginia's highly revered Pig Destroyer have made a name for themselves over the past two decades — on albums like 2001's Prowler in the Yard, 2004's Terrifyer and their last record, 2012's acclaimed Book Burner — as masters of grindcore. But on their new LP, Head Cage, the band decided to switch up their sound and explore new sonic directions.
"I feel like a lot of times when you get a death metal or a grindcore record, you can listen to the first couple songs and that's pretty much what the whole album is going to sound like," vocalist/lyricist J.R. Hayes tells Exclaim! over the phone. "We wanted to make sure that people had to go all the way through it to see everything that we were trying to accomplish."
Guitarist and primary songwriter Scott Hull wanted to go in a different direction this time around, explains Hayes. "I know that Scott liked the Book Burner record, but I think he felt like maybe we weren't pushing ourselves enough on that record and he wanted to write some different kinds of songs," he says.
"We were trying to mix it up as much as we could. You can make the heaviest record in the world, but it doesn't really matter if somebody only throws it on once, you know what I mean? It's like, you want to be able to bring people back in and have them really get absorbed in it."
While much of Pig Destroyer's catalogue is comprised of 20-track releases, which feature brief songs that capture their brand of fast and unrelentingly vicious grind, the band opted to switch things up on Head Cage. The new album puts much less of a focus on speedy chaos, and puts more of a spotlight on heavy riffs, harsh low-end and noisy dissonance, which are all showcased through much more thoughtful and varied song compositions.
"I think that with Book Burner there were so many short songs and all the songs kind of try to do the same thing. So on this record, we just wanted to try to make every song as interesting as we could and different from every other song as we could," Hayes explains.
The band's altered sound on Head Cage has also been thanks to the addition of John Jarvis, Pig Destroyer's first-ever bass player. Hayes explains that adding a bassist has made a huge impact on the outcome of the record.
"It gave Scott another tool to play with, and we were able to do a lot of things with the arrangements and with the songwriting that we wouldn't have been able to do without a bass player. So that almost singlehandedly allowed us to do something different than we've done before," he says.
"Having John in there also enabled us to give Blake [Harrison, electronics] more space to play with and more room for him to do some atmospheric-type things and samples. We don't really have any interest in copying another band and we don't have any interest in remaking an album that we've already made. So for us, it's always just about going forward and trying to do something that's interesting to us. Hopefully it'll be interesting to our fans as well."
Although Head Cage takes a different approach than much of their previous material, Hayes says that they haven't changed their sound completely and that this record is still distinctly Pig Destroyer.
"I think maybe early on [Scott] didn't even really want to have any blast beats or short, Pig Destroyer-type songs on there at all. But we kind of pushed back on that a little bit because that just felt, to me, like throwing the baby out with the bath water kind of idea. We're still Pig Destroyer, we still have got to have some grindcore on the record."
However, Head Cage clearly marks a turning point in band's sound progression, and Hayes understands that there's bound to be some backlash from fans.
"I know that nobody can put more pressure on us than we put on ourselves. I probably put more effort into this album than any album that I've ever worked on, and I don't usually worry about how something's going to be received because I don't ultimately have any control over that.
"Ultimately you kind of have to rise above it and just be like, it is what it is. We did the best that we could and if people don't like it, then well that's okay. We part as friends, I don't hold anything against anybody. Music is, by its nature, an emotional thing, and so it's not like I've never heard a record by a band and been disappointed by it — it happens to everybody. So you just have to accept that you're not going to make everybody happy and just do what you can do for yourself and for your band mates."
Head Cage is out September 7 via Relapse.

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