Of all the genres of extreme music, grindcore is one the hardest to get into if you are not of the metal persuasion (though, harsh noise and drone certainly stack up there). With its combination of furiously short songs played extremely fast (ranging from a few seconds to around 2 minutes, usually), machine gun drumming (properly called Blast beats), and indecipherable screamed vocals, it is the sort of music that has outsiders shaking their heads in disgust. And while many of the aforementioned characteristics are common to metal in general, it is the shortness of the songs that really defines grindcore (packing all the intensity into as concise a package as possible).
Even as I started to become interested in metal, and became a fan of harsh vocals and downtuned guitars, I was skeptical about grindcore. It wasn’t until I first heard Pig Destroyer that I finally began to really enjoy the genre. Specifically, I remember hearing the song “Starbelly”, which saw the band working outside the confines of a traditional grindcore song, stretching the song out to 5 minutes incorporating the slow riffing of doom metal. That stylistic choice helped ease me into the song, but what really struck me were J.R. Hayes’ lyrics. The song is written as a love letter/suicide note, and boy does it hit unsettlingly hard without coming across as heavy handed. It is fairly common for metal bands to sing about dark and violent topics, and the inane lyrics and subject matter are usually masked by the incomprehensible style of vocal delivery. It was refreshing to find a band that did not throw lyrical composition to the wayside just because the vocal style employed would make the words hard to make out. After hearing that song, I made it a priority to become more familiar with Pig Destroyer’s work, and in doing so, I garnered an appreciation for grindcore.
With my introduction to grindcore out of the way, I come at last to the original point of this post, which is to talk about a new EP that Pig Destroyer released this week, called Mass & Volume. The EP consists of 2 songs recorded at the tail end of the recording session for Phantom Limb (their 4th studio album). It was not originally intended to see the light of day (it was the last thing recorded by Pig Destroyer’s previous drummer, Brian Harvey. His departure from the band had made the EP's release seem unlikely). However, it was just released to raise money for the family of Pat Egan (Sales Director of Relapse Records) who passed away from complications of pneumonia. The EP was put up on Relapse Record’s bandcamp page for $10, with all proceeds going to a college fund for Pat’s teenage daughter, Katie.
As I touched on earlier, Pig Destroyer’s willingness to reach outside of the narrow genre restraints of grindcore is one of the things that originally drew me to the band. And true to the form of Pig Destroyer’s last EP, Natasha, their new offering in Mass & Volume does not fit under the umbrella of grindcore. As a whole, the EP is an experiment in guitar feedback and drone. In particular, the first track (from which the EP gets its name) is 19 minutes of droning guitar feedback interspersed with protracted guitar riffs moving at the pace of molasses and sparse cymbal crashes. It isn’t until close to 8 minutes into the song that J.R.’s vocals come in, and while his vocals are typically deranged, those on Mass & Volume are really something else, gurgling contemptuously from your speakers. About midway through the song, the guitar riffage picks up slightly in tempo, wailing thunderously in time with deliberately placed drum hits before dissipating abruptly into ambience. That ambience is filled with a vocal sample of a man talking, though what he is saying is largely drowned out by rumbling bass and feedback. The track eventually dissolves into nothingness with what sounds like the lingering hum of strings. The song is at the complete opposite spectrum of the succinct fury of grindcore, and is sure to alienate some fans of the band. Even still, Pig Destroyer has been known to dabble in doom metal before, such that “Mass & Volume” should not be coming completely out of left field.
The second song on the EP, “Red Tar”, is a more traditional sludge metal song, with chugging guitar riffs and pounding drums, still never climbing to the tempos normally found in most of their music. It is all tied together with J.R. spewing vitriolic rage through the microphone, with the song drawing to a close at the 6 minute mark to the sound of guitar feedback and a drum solo (a fitting end to Brian Harvey’s tenure with the band).
All in all, Mass & Volume is an excellent release that reinforces the notion that Pig Destroyer is not willing to rest on its successes. They are a band that is continually striving to expand their sound. I feel that any fan of the band will find something to like on the album, even if the 20 minute venture into the realm of guitar feedback is not their cup of tea. Also, I feel the need to mention that the EP’s disquieting cover art was done by Arik Roper, one of my favorite artists when it comes to album covers (he has done a lot of work for Weedeater and High on Fire). Top notch work!
Give the EP a listen at Relapse Records' bandcamp page and consider buying it to support Pat Egan's family during this difficult time.