This EP bears the mark of idle hands merely wanting to keep busy.
There’s a backstory to Pig Destroyer’s Mass and Volume EP, and it is thus. It was recorded at the tail end of the sessions for 2007’s Phantom Limb album, and then it was shelved. However, it was released in 2013 as a limited edition digital download to help benefit an employee who had passed away at the band’s record label. Now, it is finally being released properly across compact disc, vinyl and digital formats. The EP simply consists of two songs. “Mass” runs for 19 minutes. “Volume” (also known as “Red Tar”, but my digital copy references the former) is about six and a half minutes. And that’s it. That’s all.
Pig Destroyer is known as a grindcore band that is usually pretty quick and nimble – 13 of the songs on their last album, Book Burner, ran less than two minutes long. Mass and Volume, on the other hand, sees the band stretching out, and bringing the pace down to a crawl. So if you’re a fan of the band, Mass and Volume is something completely different to get used to. If you buy the album, that is. And, while it is mildly enjoyable in a Boris-esque, drone rock kind of way, I would recommend trying before buying, if you can, because, man, there’s not much to say about this, even though I will prattle on here. It’s simply below average.
In fact, Mass and Volume is lacking a clear direction. “Mass” just trudges throughout the course of its runtime, comprised mainly of feedback squalor and simple riffing. I’ll tell you the truth: I can’t play the guitar to save my life (which means not at all), but if you gave me a day or two and taught me some simple chord progressions, I would probably be able to exactly replicate “Mass” note for note. It’s pretty simple, there’s not much to it. Another thing is that the vocals are undecipherable, period. And that’s when there are vocals, as “Mass” is Spartan on that front. I know that this is a convention of the metal genre – the words are meaningless in context to the emotion behind them – but when you have a nearly 20 minute song that is just full of sustained chords, and then you enter in with pig grunts, it almost sounds as though you’re critiquing the simplicity of the music. So Pig Destroyer suffers a fail on that front.
However, “Mass” does have its charms in a way. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call this brilliant, and give me a Sunn O))) album any day, it does work if you’re just going around the house, doing various tasks while listening to this. Or, perhaps more apt, this is the sort of thing you might want to smoke a joint to. The antecedent for this is probably Sleep’s “Dopesmoker”, which, of course, runs more than an hour. However, “Dopesmoker” is tremendous, and has movements within movements, and is the sort of thing that, listening to it, creates a sort of high or state of euphoria. “Mass”, on the other hand, is kinda boring. It doesn’t invite close listening, and basically works best as a soundtrack to whatever background activity that you’re doing. May I suggest vacuuming?
So what about “Volume” (or “Red Tar”, or whatever the heck it’s officially called)? Well, it’s generally faster, with repetitive riffing. However, it also plods along in its own way. Compared to “Mass”, “Volume” is played at a breakneck speed, for all its mid-tempo step. In some ways, it’s a stab at the heaviness that Black Sabbath used to make in the ‘70s. That point of familiarity works against it, though, rendering it as something not very special and something that you’ve heard all before. I’m not really sure what to make of it. “Volume” is never going to be anyone’s favourite metal song, especially with so much good stuff out there vying for your attention, if not classic stuff that warrants revalidation. “Volume” does not warrant that. It’s nice, it’s OK, it doesn’t throw your mountain down into the sea, it just is. But coupling it with “Mass” is a head scratcher. It’s hard to say how these two songs compliment each other in any way.
I’d love to get inside the collective brains of those in the band, and figure out what they were thinking about these two songs, and this collection as a whole. However, the sinking feeling I get is that, yep, the band had a few hours worth of recording time that they wanted to burn off, and just wrote a couple of songs on the fly. Still, I don’t know why slowing things down was considered to be a tool in their arsenal, considering their history for loud fast rules.
All in all, the Mass and Volume EP isn’t a total washout. It’s perplexing, and if you have an inclination to solving mind puzzles, this will provide quite easily hours of entertainment because you’ll be grasping at straws trying to figure out how these two things work. And it’s not bad. It’s just that it’s not really all that good, either. Think of it this way: these songs were recorded in 2007, but not released until 2013. That’s a six year gap, seven if you count this release as being the “official” one. One has to wonder and question why bother to release this as a standalone album or EP in the first place. Would the band have been better served waiting 20 years and then appending these two songs to a deluxe, remastered edition of Phantom Limb when the timing was right? Hard to tell.
As a standalone release, however, Mass and Volume doesn’t really work all that well. Its two songs are not closely enough related to one another in style and sound, really. And the EP bears the mark of idle hands merely wanting to keep busy. That’s fine, but, to some, it may have been better if the band simply didn’t release this stuff at all, excepting as a bonus to the already existing disc. Put this another way: the title of the EP lies. There is neither mass nor volume to this. It simply just murmurs on. That might be fine for fans, but, honestly, you’ve heard this someplace else. If you have, you’ll probably agree that it has been done oh so much better. Really, the end result is one where the effort feels squandered. Pig Destroyer has received their share of critical acclaim in the past. Mass and Volume will probably make that elusive this time out. Nice try, but ultimately no cigar.