The EP is an interesting little beast in the year 2020. Once upon a time, the EP was a necessary way for bands to stay in the press and fans’ ears between full-lengths, or it would act as a vehicle for satisfying the requirements of a crappy record deal they wished to escape. With the substantial increase of tools that permit people to record at home, artists can more readily rely on labels for marketing and distribution rather than being entirely beholden to them for every reach between the purse strings. Modern record deals are often more artist-friendly than ever before. As for press and audience attention, the wild west of the internet has opened way more doors for bands and audiences alike. Sure, with SO MUCH music out there, it can be hard to stick out from the crowd, but there is also a massive glut of music websites (hi there!) that all need a constant stream of content. Look no further than the fact that Tool stayed atop every metal “news” site for well over 10,000 days just for thinking about telling one another that maybe one day they would again consider possibly releasing new music with nary a note seeing daylight until an album was actually released.
Naturally, that means results will vary significantly, and Pig Destroyer is no stranger to the full spectrum of quality. Explosions in Ward 6 spent its 19-minute runtime eviscerating eardrums with a raucous and hideous brand of grindcore that earned them a spot on their forever home with Relapse Records just a few short years later. Their next EP came in the form of Natasha, which is a single-song 38-minute track that blends doom and soundscapes in a way wholly unexpected from a band that primarily kept their songs running at the speed of a tornado for two minutes or less. This approach was divisive for the fans that first heard it as a bonus DVD with sophomore album Terrifyer, but for every bit of hatred lobbed in Pig Destroyer’s direction, there seemed to be an even louder contingency that marked it as genius. Eventually, the song earned its spot as a standalone release, and was even played in full as a special performance at Temples Festival in England. Then in 2013, we got the largely forgettable Mass & Volume that seemed to want to rekindle the slow doom of its predecessor with much less impactful results.
Now The Octagonal Stairway is striking somewhere in the middle of the previous bookends as the first half follows the blueprint of Head Cage to a tee, while the final three tracks fall solely in the world of experimental sound.
The title track starts and ends with oddball sound effects, but implements pinch harmonics, a touch of Exhumed fury, a Phantom Limb-era beatdown passage in the middle, and a nice woozy riff toward the end. “The Cavalry” follows suit keeping the foot firmly on the gas for a stronger batch of grind and death riffing than was present anywhere on Head Cage. “Cameraman” features a slick rising riff around 45 seconds in, but otherwise toes the line of the two before it. The biggest detractor from these tracks is the production issue that arose on the last full length. Ever since adding a bass player to the mix, Scott Hull seems adamant that you know the bottom end is there. His current brand of mixing allows the low end to often overwhelm the rest of the song and limit the true impact they may otherwise be capable of.
Tracks 4-6 take an unexpected turn into the world of electronics, noise, and soundscapes. “News Channel 6” is 45 seconds of someone reading headlines over electronics, while “Head Cage” comes off like an interlude track of some warped voice rambling through their psychotic thoughts over unnerving noises, akin to what The Acacia Strain did with “Extreme Wrath of the Jhiaxus” on 3750. The aptly titled “Sound Walker” starts with a steady beat and continually builds on that backbone, effectively integrating head-bobbing beats and viscerally ugly noise in equal measures, but there is no reason for this to be eleven minutes long.
Once that demented Speak & Spell rendition of “Jennifer” hit in 2001, it’s no surprise that noise experimentation became a regular part of Pig Destroyer’s sound. What is surprising is that they continue to try to turn those elements into standalone tracks when they are always more effective as an integrated element. Even when given lengthier patches to breathe and meander in Natasha, the soundscapes were more impactful as a part rather than a whole.
If you were a big fan of Head Cage and your favorite song from Phantom Limb is the over-long soundscape bonus track, then you are the little piggy that needs to go to the market and pick this one up. If you still long for the slaughter of early 2000’s Pig Destroyer and aren’t interested in what is essentially half a release of Blake Harrison solo material, then you are indeed the piggy that will want to stay home. Either way, click play on something from this amazing band and get your piggly wiggly bits destroyed.