Richmond, VA isn't exactly a hotbed for extreme metal music, but Pig Destroyer is making a strong name for themselves within the grindcore genre. The four man band plays El Corazon this Saturday, March 28 at 9 p.m. and tickets are $15. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough real estate in this week's current issue to get in stories about all of the bands that we wanted to do, but after the jump check out an interesting article on Pig Destroyer by Saby Reyes-Kulkarni featuring an interview with lead singer, J.R. Hayes.
Pig Destroyer achieves horror without shock tactics.
By Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
Phantom Limb, the most recent album from Richmond, Virginia grindcore outfit Pig Destroyer, ends with the murmur of crickets as the old Ray Price country classic "I've Got a New Heartache" plays in the background. Sculpted to sound like a flashback from the life of a mental patient, very little actually occurs. Once the dreamy lull of steel guitar and Price's voice ends, the listener is left with nothing but crickets for a full two and a half minutes before a car drives off in the distance, which fades again into the sound of crickets and, eventually, more cars driving by. After a half-hour's worth of full-throttle metal, one might expect the relative quiet to offer a respite for tired ears, but the segment easily qualifies as one of the most chilling musical moments in the history of recorded music.
Although it's never explicitly clear, listening to this outro track one gets the sensation of being somewhere near a highway at night. And even though there are no sounds that directly indicate human contact, there is an unmistakable suggestion of a lurking presence -- presumably male, and presumably harboring violent intent. In a genre and social climate where anything goes, where listeners are desensitized from having been saturated for generations with increasingly violent imagery, it takes a lot to make this kind of visceral impact on an audience. That Pig Destroyer -- guitarist/producer Scott Hull, vocalist JR Hayes, drummer Brian Harvey, and noise programmer Blake Harrison -- can instill fear so vividly using minimal elements explains, in part, why the band is emerging as one of the most vital voices in extreme metal today.
"When you watch Jaws," says Hayes, who writes all the band's lyrics, "the fact that they don't show the shark is what makes the shit so scary, that tension of that shark swimming around you and you don't know what it is."
Listening to Pig Destroyer entails surrendering to a kind of all-encompassing assault on the senses. While all grindcore is intended to envelope the listener in an overwhelming hail of chaos, it has long been an insider secret among afficionados that the music can have the opposite effect and just make you numb. Two decades into the genre's history, the hard truth remains that it's an Olympian feat for a band to hold your attention for an entire album -- even if it's only 20 minutes long. With Pig Destroyer, however, there is an almost tactile component to the way the band works your basic instincts -- namely, fear.
Though Hayes laces his recurring explorations of sexuality with stark elements of violence, when coupled with the music the mood veers closer to helplessness than the sheer rage preferred by the majority of his peers. Sure, compulsive sexual aggression, is as omnipresent in Pig Destroyer's sound as the thick, cutting guitar distortion and blast beats that have become grindcore hallmarks, but -- much like the famous shark he cites -- Hayes generally prefers to wade in the shadowy undercurrents and encroach on you slowly, with a stalker's combination of steadiness and restraint.
He also paints with a surrealist's brush, which deepens the impact of the music. Hayes makes deft use of stream-of-consciousness wordplay in the tradition of William Burroughs so that, as the band literally grinds on, the haze of psychosis and despair takes on the mind-bending quality of a hallucination or nightmare. In fact, by the band's third album, Terrifyer and its accompanying long-form ambient piece, Natasha, it became apparent that Pig Destroyer had mastered the art of constructing auditory nightmares. Meanwhile, set adrift in the maelstrom like a boat without mooring, the listener's thoughts naturally gravitate to negative associations. And the more you listen, the more you feel something akin to the gradual dissolution of your sanity.
Hayes, of course, prefers it this way. And make no mistake, he is trying to disturb you.
"Some people," he explains, "like going to see movies where everything is just dumped in their lap and the director tells them exactly what he wants them to know. I prefer a movie that you've got to think about. Maybe you don't know what the hell is going on and you have to figure it out. Those are the things that stick with me. When someone reads my lyrics, it's not about them trying to understand what's going on in my head -- it's about them trying to understand what's going on in their head."
As much as Hayes relies on the surreal imagery he pulls from his imagination, he clearly has an intuitive grasp of the emotional crevices where real-life horror takes root. It takes a certain kind of sensitivity to come up with lyrics like: strange tension in the harbor tonight / I watch the rich girls down on Duke Street pass me by / there's mass extinction on my mind / human cruelty stains my thoughts / I've got this feeling like things have gone too far / and now we can't get back. While other metal singers rely almost exclusively on graphic violence to achieve intensity, Hayes has honed his writing into a craft, and he is proving himself to be one of metal's most engagingly provocative lyricists.
Perhaps some of the band's power comes from the fact that Hayes is himself vulnerable to the very terror that he is trying to put the listener through.
"It's humanity that scares the crap out of me," he says. "Just the things that people will do to each other on an emotional level."
Both avid film enthusiasts, it's no wonder that Hayes and Hull are reaching for an all-encompassing sensory experience that rivals cinema. It is in this department that Hull demonstrates his unparalleled sonic craftsmanship. Long gone are the days when grindcore records sounded like shit as part of the charm, like they were recorded on a microphone stuffed inside of a shoebox. With Hull's recordings, every detail and nuance, every variation in cymbal timbre and guitar tone, every breath of silence between the stutters is audible -- even as the music goes by at blinding speed. In a style this crammed with sonic information, it is a minor miracle that Hull manages to give the music space. And with the last two Pig Destroyer albums, he joins the ranks of producers, like Colin Richardson, who have elevated grindcore's production values, and thus the genre itself, to the level of true artform.
Not to be overlooked are the band's riffs, which, at the end of the day, are what attract most metal fans in the first place. While both Hayes and Harvey contribute to the shape of the music, it is Hull (also a member of underground grind act Agoraphobic Nosebleed) who comes up with all the riffs. For the first three Pig Destroyer albums, Hull and Hayes set out to make the sickest, fastest music they could. After all of that, Phantom Limb's slower, thrash and doom dynamics come as a welcome surprise. Phantom Limb could serve as the soundtrack to an air-guitar tournament, professional or amateur, which adds a previously missing element of giddy thrill to the band's otherwise dreadful vibe. It all goes into explaining why Pig Destroyer is a modern metalhead's veritable wet dream. Or more make that a wet nightmare.