Pig Destroyer have wrenched a number of unpleasant emotions from me over the course of their five album career. Most obviously, there's the morbid fascination you get driving past a nasty fatal traffic accident. Then there's the sickening self-loathing I feel when I recognize the worst aspects of my personality reflected back in the J.R. Hayes' madman scribblings. Hayes' lyrics can also force me to recoil in disgust at his relentlessly jaundiced take on life, particularly his interaction with women. But the one sensation their previous albums had not prepared me for was indifference.
Book Burner is an average Relapse grind record. Taken as that, I'm sure some people will find plenty to like. While I've loved everything Pig Destroyer have done before (Yes, Phantom Limb included), this made almost no impression. The past few years have been tumultuous for Pig Destroyer as they've been plagued by constant turnover behind the drums and a few false starts before they were able to get serious about writing and recording Book Burner and that toll sounds obvious here. This is a band that sounds uncertain and strained.
While the album is full of shorter, grindier songs in the vein of their 38 Counts of Battery material with just a small handful of longer, more involved tunes that take after Phantom Limb, they're missing that primal intensity that set them apart. Scott Hull is one of the most prodigious musical talents in all of metaldom and I kept waiting for that signature hook to come -- a "Sheet Metal Girl," a "Carrion Fairy," a "Thought Crime Spree" -- but it never showed up. The closest we come is the fishtailing end of "Valley of Geysers." You'd also be forgiven for forgetting Blake Harrison is in the band because his talents are being severely underutilized. The much ballyhooed addition of Adam Jarvis seems to have imported the worst aspect of Misery Index as well: that lifeless, emotionless drumming. Jarvis' playing could probably be timed with an atomic clock, but he doesn't generate a single significant emotion throughout 30 minutes of music. If there's a bright spot to be had, it's that J.R. Hayes still sounds pissed as all fuck. The short story he contributes to the expanded edition of the song is nothing memorable, but he's still slitting his musical wrists and laying it all out with his performance. (Likewise the bonus album of punk covers is demo quality, by the numbers takes of familiar songs that doesn't take them anywhere new.)
Pig Destroyer have been at the acme of grindcore for more than a decade. When I defend the notion of grind as art, I point people to Prowler in the Yard and The Inalienable Dreamless. But Book Burner falls short of the standard they've set for themselves with past efforts. Everybody is entitled to an off album. Hopefully this lineup is stable and the band can gel and really find their footing because next time I want to feel something.