Sound — 9
The amount of wiggle room in grindcore is, well, practically nil. You don't wake up one day and decide, as a modern day grindcore auteur, that you're going to add a string section or a New Orleans brass band or the Polyphonic Spree as backup vocalists (even if what I've described there is basically Mr. Bungle). Grindcore is a genre with established borders, tempo is beyond fast, length of song is short, guitar tunings are abrasive, vocal-style is either shriek-y high or growl-y low, and subject matter is dark, if not outright disgusting, that butt up against other genres (death metal on the one end, noise on the other) but are nonetheless patrolled by vicious attack dogs. The fact that Pitchfork is even reviewing a grindcore band is probably a good sign to the faithful that said band is a crossover act or, you know, false metal.
Lyrics — 8
Well, yes and no. Pig Destroyer is grindcore, through and through, and on it's new album, Phantom Limb, some of the songs are slightly longer ("Loathsome" tops out at 4:04) but many are well within the minute-and-a-half range. Singer J.R. Hayes still delivers his serial killer-chic lyrics ("Stench of solvent covers stench of rot/ I didn't even recognize her like a painting/ A masterpiece torn to pieces"; "Your rib cage is open like a great white's jaws/ Your legs look so sexy out of context") in an unintelligible, rasping shout that practically sprays you with acidic saliva. The guitars still feel like you're being pushed ear-first into a knife-grinder's stone, and the beats are often still more of a landslide of cymbal and snare than anything you can even bang your head to. The band still deploys shock-horror samples about bodies on fire and whatnot. But Phantom Limb is such a quantum leap even beyond Pig Destroyer's earlier, already pretty f--kin' awesome records that it might as well represent a quantum leap for the whole goddamn genre.
Overall Impression — 8
Pig Destroyer have always stood slightly outside grindcore's formal restrictions; for one thing, their sound is instantly recognizable, a plus when even fans sometimes have trouble telling one 30-second song from another. The band had no trouble distinguishing themselves at a performance a few weeks ago at the Maryland Deathfest, a three-day festival devoted to extreme metal and grindcore here in Baltimore: Whereas so many other bands that weekend had a rhythm section so tightly wound (and badly tuned) that their snare drums sounded like a guy whacking a hat box with a ballpoint pen, Pig Destroyer had a beefy low-end, a chest-punching, hefty bottom to it's blurred blast beats. (All the more astounding considering there's no actual bass guitar involved.) And Hayes' vocals are ugly and shoved through a layer of distortion, Pig Destroyer actually brought a noise dude, Blake Harrison, in to add, well, noise to Phantom Limb, but they're never comical, his thick sneer-roar clamping your throat and giving you the evil-eye. All of this carries over on record to Phantom Limb. But what really sets the album apart is riffs. It's still not "catchy," but the chewy bits of Southern-flavored rock'n'roll guitar that Pig Destroyer leaves like bloody gristle on otherwise bleached bones offers something for every rock fan to gnaw on. For a few seconds before the very end, "Lesser Animal" verily boogies until it tightens up into the dopesick bad vibes of Eyehategod. "Heathen Temple" shrieks like a Judas Priest solo hacked to fleshy chunks before Scott Hull's ZZ Top-meets-Kerry King riffing actually starts pogoing up and down like a lowrider. With another rubbery, bottom-heavy riff, "Loathsome" is the most mosh-worthy song of the year, I know you don't see it much at Beirut shows, but people do still mosh, and the breakdown is even kinda funky. And guitar heroics aren't the only way Pig Destroyer f--ks with grindcore orthodoxy on Phantom Limb. "Fourth Degree Burns" is a love song, and not one in which Haynes dismembers the object of his affection at the end: "Tomorrow she'll step on that plane and disappear/But tonight her lips are real/ And kissing like a head-on collision" (I guess even romantic metaphors have to be violent in grindcore).