A year ago, I was listening to four bands on heavy rotation that I called the “Barnyard Tetrad”. They were Cattle Decapitation, Goatwhore, Lamb of God, and Pig Destroyer. I don’t know what it is about having a domesticated animal in the bands name. It works.
The next album is by the last of the tetrad.I have listened to lots of songs from this album, but never heard the album in its entirety in a sitting. That was a mistake. This album as a whole is really intriguing. To begin with, the first 21 songs of the album come in at just 32 minutes and 7 seconds. When Terrifyer was first released in 2004, it was issued as a DVD with a 22nd track, “Natasha” which by itself is longer than the first 21 songs at 37 minutes and 35 seconds. On reissue, these were sold separately, the 21 song album Terrifyer receiving much more attention than Natasha, released as an EP.
Before I really get into the music, I want to make sure that anyone reading this knows that these two albums should never have been sold separately. When I started listening to the 21 song Terrifyer album, I was struck at how apolitical it was. Pig Destroyer’s vocalist and lyricist J.R. Hayes was (apparently) highly influenced by hard-core and post-hardcore music in Northern Virginia /Washington DC*, and this is reflected in the anarcho-leftist feel of most of the songs. Additionally, the intense emotionality of those bands (Rites of Spring, Dag Nasty), has been a part of Pig Destroyer’s sound from the beginning. The 21 track Terrifyer really has none of the former, but a lot of the latter. Clearly the songs were linked to some unifying theme. However, on reading the lyrics, it was difficult to see what that theme was, though I knew it was there.
I noticed that on Spotify, the 22nd track was missing, but was available as the EP, Natasha. So after I listened to Terrifyer three times straight (long walk) I listened to Natasha. Mind blown. Natasha explains the first 21 tracks of Terrifyer, and the theme is darker and weirder than I had ever imagined. Taken apart, these are two very different albums, and neither is really complete. Taken together, Tracks 1-22 represent a Poe-esque inquiry into the horror of existence, that you need to experience at least once. But maybe after this pandemic has passed.
I won’t say any more on that because it will be fun to discover for yourself. From here on, I’ll refer to tracks 1-21 as “Terrifyer”, and track 22 as “Natasha”
Terrifyer: I got my ass kicked more than a few times as a kid, due to my big mouth, tolerance of pain, and inability to throw a punch. There’s something transcendental about the flurry of blows; new pain upon new pain, and yet that sense of numbness and timelessness, ending with ringing ears and the dripping taste of iron. Terrifyer is like having your brain jumped by a prison gang. In recording 21 songs over 32 minutes, Pig Destroyer is challenging what a song means as a unit; changes within songs are often more abrupt than transitions between them. The songs are often pummelingly fast (Thumbsucker, Gravedance, Sourheart), brooding (Towering Flesh) and sinister (Terrifyer). In these 32 minutes there must be 150 different riffs. What unites all of these songs is brutality. Pig Destroyer generally follows a model of recording that I call “Nothing rattles. Nothing shines”. To avoid a complicated tangent on recording**, think about how arena bands sound (best example is “When the Levy Breaks” by Led Zeppelin)…instruments and vocals are huge and distinct, and ring out. Terrifyer is the opposite: muted, muddy, and claustrophobic as hell. It makes for a really dark, and frankly terrifying environment. Add to that the battering, head-first-over-a-cliff *Chaos Reigns* approach to song writing, and you really have a solid half hour of brain bruising.
Natasha: This is the perfect foil for Terrifyer. To begin with, this unconventional track was recorded in much more conventional arena-style tones. Guitars and drums reverberate over a much more expansive sonic landscape. Natasha is a piece of extremely careful composition. Not that Terrifyers brick-in-a-dryer compositional style wasn’t careful. Natasha just seems so much more…deliberate. It is one migraine-nightmare slowly fading into the next. It begins with horror movie ambient noise gradually growing in intensity, before indistinct whispering begins at 4:26. Instrumentals begin at 5:16 so loudly and abruptly that I jumped, and then looked around to see if any one saw. What follows is a segment of sludgy doom metal: brutal downstrokes broken up by dark humming vistas of feedback. Discernible vocals don’t begin until minute 8:00, but rather than being screamed (JR Hayes style), they are sort of spoken. Sing-song like. Screaming doesn’t begin in earnest until minute 10, but the tempo remains dirge-like. This transitions back to ambient nightmare, which fades into a dreamy, sweet arpeggiated guitar. The vocals are soft and drift in and out of tune in a way that is really hard to do, and also unimaginably creepy. This fades into the sound of trickling water from which emerges the buzz of guitar, slowly growing into a tuneful but dark reprisal which becomes less and less tuneful as it winds downward. The song fragments into the sounds of wind, tortured but distant shrieks, and eventually water—a trickle, then a stream, which grows in volume until you here the waves breaking on the shore. Then silence.
*Like anyone who was into really good music in the 80s and 90s.
**Or to not avoid it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_aRu_3WvE6c
Album Cover Image by fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1813753