Pig Destroyer: Terrifyer

Adrien Begrand

Pig Destroyer


Label: Relapse
US Release Date: 2004-10-12
UK Release Date: 2004-10-25

For some, grindcore is a bit of an acquired taste, but for many others, it's so difficult to get into, it hardly seems worth the effort. The trouble is, this is one genre that is very tough for a young band to create an instantly identifiable sound. Some bands over the past decade or so have managed to do just that, carving their own discernible niche, such as grind pioneers Napalm Death, Rhode Island's Daughters (who boast one of the best drummers in hard music, period), The Locust, who dared to bring keyboards into the grindcore mix in 1997, and at the top of the heap, The Dillinger Escape Plan, who have managed to fuse sounds from all over the musical map, while remaining faithful to the grind sound. In 2004, it's now gotten to the point where a band like Dillinger has taken the genre as far ahead as it's ever been; so far, in fact, that several of the year's other grind releases sound merely ordinary by comparison.

Thankfully, one band who refuses to be left behind is Virgina's Pig Destroyer. Lauded by many as one of the finest extreme bands to come around the pike in the last five years, the trio's primary calling card is the fact that they are a band without a bass player, just guitarist/producer Scott Hull, vocalist/lyricist J.R. Hayes, and drummer John Evans. With Hull's powerful riffs that fused both hardcore and metal influences, the trio made a splash with their 2001 album, Prowler in the Yard, which combined the chaotic, cacophonous characteristics of grind with a real sense of theatricality that would make Alice Cooper proud. If the music wasn't enough to unsettle listeners, the lyrical content, which bordered on truly demented, was sure to.

As unrelenting and noisy as grindcore can sound at times, it can be one of the most musically complex forms of heavy music, emphasized by just how long it took Pig Destroyer to assemble their follow-up. Painstakingly recorded over the past two years, Terrifyer is the end result, and for fans of the first album, the long wait was indeed worth it. Possessing the same traits that made Prowler in the Yard such an eye-opener, the band takes everything to another level on Terrifyer, as the album comes as a special two-disc set, featuring the full album on one disc, and a bonus DVD audio track on the other.

The album portion itself is very strong, as the trio are just as loud and shocking as before, but here they seem to be channeling the furious, focused intensity of Slayer's immortal thrash opus Reign in Blood. Careening along at a frantic 32 minutes, Terrifyer's whopping 21 tracks slash and pummel, at often phenomenal speeds, as Hayes screams at the top of his lungs, spouting fabulously macabre verses, such as, "The tape across your mouth say more than your words ever could." Musically, the quick songs begin and end so quickly, it's best enjoyed as a full, half hour experience instead of singling out specific tracks. That said, there are a handful of songs that stand out, as the frenzied grind speed is interspersed with some great moments of old-school thrash metal, such as on the terrific "Towering Flesh", where Hull displays his guitar prowess on the song's nimble opening riff, and the thunderous breakdown a minute and a half later. Elsewhere, "Gravedancer" is a great midtempo tune that is interrupted by a disturbing, spoken word interlude, while "Terrifyer" and "Boy Constrictor" feature dominating performances by Evans, alternating from plodding and pensive, to pounding and menacing, his drumming on the latter track greatly resembling Slayer great Dave Lombardo.

The real fun starts, however, when you pop in the bonus DVD, which features the 32 minute, experimental piece of rock theater "Natasha". Mixed superbly in 5.1 surround sound (and also presented in simpler two-channel stereo), the composition is a complete departure for Pig Destroyer, as Hayes tells a convincingly creepy, supernatural story (which happens to be prefaced by an extensive introduction in the CD booklet). The musical accompaniment, meanwhile, is much slower, as Hull and Evans provide an absolutely monolithic backdrop to Hayes's story, interrupted every so often by mellower, melodic moments. As opposed to Fantomas's great Delirium Cordia from earlier this year, "Natasha" eschews all the sonic insanity in favor of a more slow-burning tone, evoking the classic doom metal of '80s greats Candlemass.

Terrifyer is superbly produced by Hull, and its double-disc combination of violent grindcore and ominous doom make it a brilliantly unsettling listening experience. In a genre where true originality is getting harder and harder to come by, this album has Pig Destroyer cementing their status as one of the best, most creative, most deliciously creepy grind bands around.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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