Album Review: Pig Destroyer — “The Octagonal Stairway”

Pig Destroyer - The Octagonal Stairway

Grindcore isn’t really a genre where bands are known for taking risks and pushing the envelope, but Pig Destroyer have always been the exception to that generalization.  Mixing whiplash grindcore with thrash riffs, doom atmosphere, harsh noise, thoughtful lyrics and smart songwriting, all while staying true to grind’s fast and furious structure might seem like a challenge but they’ve always made it seem like second nature.  This is no less true on the band’s upcoming EP The Octagonal Stairway, which sees them take their newly (relatively) expanded lineup and hone the edges into a razor sharp focus.

Pig Destroyer have, since practically day one, been putting out stellar, forward thinking grindcore that has rightfully seen them take in mountains of praise over their 23-year-and-counting career.  For my money, both Prowler in the Yard and Book Burner stand out as landmarks in the genre, thanks in no small part to Scott Hull’s singular riffage and J.R. Hayes’ philosophical lyrics.  Mainstays since the beginning of the band, the two craft a sonic landscape that is instantly recognizable as their own, whether it’s just the two of them and a drummer, or the new, much expanded lineup featuring a dedicated sampler and (gasp!) a bass player.  As is the case with The Octagonal Stairway, the new members add a welcome depth and breadth to the sound, doubling down on the harsh noise and hardcore influences that have always been present to an extent in the band’s repertoire.  The noise aspects in particular see a greater use on Stairway, with interludes between songs (featuring Igor Cavalera as a local nightly newscaster), space within songs and a dedicated eleven-minute noise opus rounding the EP out all seeing play.  If all this sounds scary to you and not like the Pig Destroyer you knew and loved, fear not: the riffs are still just as savage, the songs hit just as heavy, the lyrics are just as dark.  There’s just a little more zhoozh on top.

The opening title track hits with all the bombast and fury you would expect a Pig Destoyer opener to do.  Crunchy, pinch-harmonic soaked grind transitions smoothly into black metal tremolo picking and a thrashy midsection, all in the span of about a minute.  With the exception of the aforementioned closing track, these songs all follow a pretty standard pattern of crunchy riff into crunchy riff into crunchy riff.  Don’t get it twisted: I love the format and nobody does it better than Pig Destroyer.  But at the same time, no matter what extra sprinkle is thrown on top, the basic tenet of these songs is the same: get in, hit hard, get out before the four-minute mark.  It’s a very typical mindset of grindcore, but it’s one that’s worked for the band for a long time, so why mess with it now?  The band chooses to go off experimenting in other areas.  The way the band uses noise samples almost as a lead line over the riffs in “Cameraman” are a really interesting way to mix up their sound and make the most of the lineup they’ve got.  The bass break in “The Cavalry” compliments the screeching electronics before the big nasty riffs drops is so interesting and completely familiar at the same time.  Overall, it’s a very satisfying experience, and as the album slowly closes with ambient noisescapes, you really feel the crushing weight of the times we live in.  I wouldn’t want anything else from Pig Destroyer.

Pig Destroyer

At the end of the day, this is a Pig Destroyer release.  You probably already knew what you were getting when you clicked play.  It’s unconventional as far as grind goes, but for Pig Destroyer, especially their expanded sound phase, it doesn’t deviate too much from the path they’ve been setting for themselves.  That being said, it’s a really good path, as if there are any low points in Pig Destroyer’s discography.  It should do well to whet the appetite of anyone missing what the boys have been up to.  Here’s to more soon.

– Ian

The Octagonal Stairway will be available August 28 on Relapse Records.  For more information on Pig Destroyer, visit their Facebook page.

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