It’s been six years since Book Burner, and to add an extra layer of intrigue to Pig Destroyer‘s comeback album, Head Cage is the first time the band has ever had a bassist in their 20-plus year career. The metal world was ready for a new album. The world is getting Head Cage, a toothless outing that disjointedly presents a ton of different styles without being done to any remarkable standard.
Electronics mastermind for the band Blake Harrison told Metal Hammer back in January that Head Cage is essentially an amalgamation of all Pig Destroyer‘s albums. He said “Prowler In The Yard was more of a death metal record, Terrifyer was more of a noise rock record, Book Burner was a grindcore record and Phantom Limb was more of a thrash record, but this one has all of those things in it. Some songs have a more Melvins vibe and obviously there are some straight-up, 30-second, fast-as-hell grindcore songs.” Which at the time seemed promising, because the sum of all good things must be a great thing, right? Now with the results in hand, the comment seems more like an early red flag.
At its core, Head Cage has some great riffs and moments – even solid songs. “Army Of Cops” and “Circle River” are straightforward crushers that Pig Destroyer should absolutely elaborate on more. “Dark Train” mirrors the band’s classic grinding sound with all the bombastic rage they’ve always channeled. The odd, chirping noisescape overtop the loose bass riff and uncomfortably swung groove on “The Last Song” is menacing as all hell, but much like most of the songs on Head Cage, it fits into the former category of just being a stranded good idea. Most of the songs either feel like a loose collection of riffs or just mill about and then storm off into the following track.
For instance, “Concrete Beast” feels like a compilation of unused riffs from Agoraphobic Nosebleed‘s Arc EP (complete with Kat Katz on vocals), while the seven-minute closer “House Of Snakes” is a full-on homage the intro of Metallica‘s “Blackened” followed by basically two unrelated Pig Destroyer songs stapled together in the middle. Even the 90-second track “Mt. Skull” grinds happily away but never quite wraps itself up, as it presents ideas and then drops them for what feels like constant starting points. Head Cage‘s music feels like it was written piece by piece over the course of the past six years and then lumped together without any real consideration into the consistency or flow of a full-length album.
The other vastly disappointing aspect of Head Cage is the production. Drums thud dully, snare drums listlessly slap, and both the guitar and bass tracks are more amorphously fuzzy than they are viscerally angry. For a record that’s support to combine death metal, noise rock, grindcore, and thrash, Pig Destroyer sounds somewhere between an overly-polished mid-2000s metalcore band with its drum sounds and bad stoner rock on the strings.
Head Cage is an album that attempts to experiment with a new band member but never quite got off the ground. There’s just no central aural thesis to the record that ties all the satellite ideas together into a coherent work. It also doesn’t help that the opener “Tunnel Under The Tracks” is an aimless ambient piece that goes on for two minutes and the closer “House Of Snakes” offers no actual closure to the work, making the first and last impressions of Head Cage pretty weak.
No matter how loud you blast it, no matter how many times you try to really, truly head bang the ever-loving hell out of it, no matter how many times you want to find common threads, Head Cage is never going to feel furious, or coherent, or make you feel the animosity the band feels. Head Cage is a neutered effort that thrashes about and tries for a half an hour to make a point without ever doing so.