Album Review – Head Cage by Pig Destroyer (Relapse Records)

American grindcore outfit, Pig Destroyer, have released their long awaited 6th studio album, called Head Cage. Head Cage was released on the 7th of September via Relapse Records.

The last time we had an album from Pig Destroyer was back in 2012 with the album Book Burner. There was an EP, Mass and Volume, released in 2013 but essentially it has been around 6 years waiting for fans of the band. I must admit I don’t really fit into that category, a fan of the band. I know of them but don’t know much of their music. While I like some grindcore, I don’t actively seek it out, often finding the music a little uninspiring. Fast, dirty and heavy goodness, yes, but not something I am going to listen to for hours on end. Because of that, most of Pig Destroyer has passed me by.

Head Cage

Photo by Joey Wharton Photography

I know they are popular though. They are one of the biggest names in the genre and so I am genuinely quite excited about checking out Head Cage. I am also a little apprehensive. One thing that does make me more hopeful is that Head Cage is the first full release from Pig Destroyer to have a bassist. John Jarvis joined the band back in 2013. 5 years in the band and this is the first full album we will get to hear him on. Alongside Jarvis, founding members J.R. Hayes, on vocals, and Scott Hull, on guitars stand as the surviving original members. John Jarvis’ cousin, Adam Jarvis is on drums, joining the band in 2011 and Blake Harrison, since 2006, looks after any sampling and electronic work.

Head Cage is 12 tracks long, weighing in at just 31 minutes long. That short duration makes you think you are about to get blasted by 12 short, gut punchers but the predominant sound you actually get across the album is groove. A thick, hard and heavy slamming groove. Maybe the added bass is the cause, maybe they have always sounded this way. I don’t know but, damn, this is good.

There is such a mix of genres on show in an album that seems to tackle as many of the problems with modern society as it possibly can. Opener Tunnel Under the Tracks is a 90 second intro really. Some sampled effects, spoken word and atmosphere builders that lead into a terrifying cacophony of screams, yells and feedback noises. Talk about set the scene. This leads directly into Dark Train which is one of the few tracks to sound exactly as I thought they would. Blasting drums and frenetic guitars create a wall of noise while the vocals rain down aggression upon the listener. It is one of the few tracks on Head Cage that really offers straight up grind. Another being Terminal Itch, which also features guest vocals from Kat Katz (Agoraphobic Nosebleed).

Other tracks see them pull on different influences like death, thrash, sludge, doom and (whisper it quietly) maybe a little metalcore. Army of Cops is the first point where I sat up and was like, wow, this is different. The track is still viciously heavy but slows things down a bit, chucks a ton of bass in and operates a pounding groove. It’s an impressive sound and it suits them. Circle River keeps the groove going but has sections of cleaner (not clean) vocal lines and even chucks some gang vocals into the mix.

Head Cage

You get some of the trashier influences come through in the short blast of Mt. Skull with looser drums amid hiding under the grindcore skin. Tracks like Concrete Beast add some sludge in with a glorious bass led intro. The groove stays and the riff has a nicely distorted, thumping sound to it. You get more of this style come through on the glorious seven minute closer, House of Snakes. Some of the riffs being slammed out on this track are mind blowing. Technical, progressive, dirty and hard hitting while the drums switch up timing between chaotic blasts and carefully considered attacks. It remains very heavy but expands the genre by showing grindcore can be much more than what, at least I, expected. Something purists are bound to be pissed about.

I was really surprised by Head Cage and it goes to show you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover. Or a band by the subgenre they are lumped into. It is a clever, progressive album with plenty of heaviness and even more groove. I wonder if this will divide opinion with fans looking for punishing grindcore being disappointed? Perhaps. Not me though, I think Head Cage is a fine piece of work.

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Head Cage is out now on all streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify. You can grab a physical copy, and some cool merch, from Pig Destroyer’s Bandcamp page. Find out more on Pig Destroyer at their Bandcamp, Facebook and Instagram pages.

Head Cage by Pig Destroyer (Relapse Records)
  • The Final Score - 8.5/10
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