Before Jennifer Wrestled Her Friend Playfully to the Ground
By the mid-90s, bands like Discordance Axis, Brutal Truth, Assück, Extreme Noise Terror and many others were adding new structures to the tetanus-filled grindcore playground created by Napalm Death, Carcass and Repulsion in the late 80s. While the restrictions of physical media meant no one could create a shorter song than Napalm Death’s “You Suffer,” every group was on a mission to challenge listeners’ limits on speed, aggression and noise.
He also spent a year with one of metal’s most infamous villains in Anal Cunt. He has credits on their 1996 album 40 More Reasons to Hate Us, but his contributions were limited since that band was primarily an outlet for mouthpiece Seth Putnam to try and piss off as many people as he possibly could while the sloppy claustrophobic songs were mostly secondary. The connection to AxCx led him to creating Japanese Torture Comedy Hour, which permitted him to explore his interests in projects that only created noise.
In partnering with drummer Brian Harvey and vocalist J.R. Hayes, Hull would find collaborators willing to combine his full background into one vicious outfit with Pig Destroyer. He would remain the mastermind and songwriter with his riffs being the driving force of the band, but the other two members would put a stamp on what he created that was essential to their success. Their early demos and releases would have them show their influences on their sleeves with Carcass, Dark Angel and Melvins covers, but their early smattering of original songs hinted at a visceral take on grindcore that would infatuate and haunt fans for years to come.
With 2001’s Prowler In The Yard, Pig Destroyer started to slightly stretch their short-burst format and open the production to make those iconic riffs more recognizable. Their partnership with the powerhouse of Relapse Records would help launch their foul brand of hostility into a landscape that would never be the same again.
This is Disgusting, It’s Pornography
“We didn’t feel like we came into our own musically until we did Prowler,” said Scott Hull in a 2020 interview. “We were still in that sort of hardcore theme where it was looked down upon to be too polished and definitely you couldn’t have too many metal elements in your music. When we did Prowler, we didn’t know how NOT to let those metal influences come through as long as we also kept the energy and inspiration and the speed.”
Those metal influences were a massive boon to what Pig Destroyer had established with Explosions in Ward 6. After the legendarily upsetting Stephen Hawking-cum-Baudelaire spoken-word intro of “Jennifer,” Hull unleashes a razor-sharp riff accompanied by a machine-gun drum roll and Hayes’ deranged screams. At 35 seconds in length, “Cheerleader Corpses” manages to sound like a serial killer’s version of thrash as they descend into madness.
Hull’s ability to slam varied and memorable riffs into the tightest time windows is on full display here. Even with songs like “Ghost of a Bullet,” “Evacuating Heaven” and “Murder Blossom” that top out at 20-seconds long, He still manages to regularly fit more than one significant riff into the track. There are bands that can’t even get a full riff off in 20 seconds and this guy is like “fuck it, how about three?”
Thrash, death and hardcore are all sluiced together to make Pig Destroyer’s particular brand of sick all the more volatile. “Heart and Crossbones” lights a fire with a couple of brief moments of mini-shred guitar passages. “Intimate Slavery” has a whirling guitar passage that borders on tech-death before proffering an off-kilter breakdown perfectly punctuated by crashing cymbals. “Naked Trees” will launch you out of your denim vest with its pure thrash fury before it slows to a descent that will have you willingly punch headfirst through a concrete wall. “Sheet Metal Girl” vomits out a sickly wobble in the opening notes before it goes full-tilt blast happy and closes with a squeal-punched pit-crusher of a closing act. Then we have “Preacher Crawling” bursting open with a visceral scream and one of the fastest, most diabolical riff-and-drum combos of the full album. If this preacher is crawling, he’s doing so on the ceiling possessed by a hellfire. That song is a pure blistering assault and it’s absolutely glorious.
Let’s not discredit the mentioned original influence of hardcore though. “Trojan Whore” seems like it exists specifically for the act of crowd killing. Its speedy chug and open space are made of flying fists and swinging arms while its later moments hint at a bit of Pantera groove that will later become more prevalent in their sound. Almost every song dips into a passage that would make their hardcore forefathers proud. This is an album built as much for headbanging as it is for picking up pennies…as long as you’re okay with those activities happening back and forth constantly in 15-second intervals.
The final four tracks of the album are where Pig Destroyer truly shows their willingness to experiment and expand. The opening to “Hyperviolet” sounds like HAL 9000’s revenge turned into guitar sounds backed by a constant barrage of fills and cymbal crashes that let you know the hunt is coming on strong. The middle passage is essentially an air horn with a drum solo and closes out with an upsetting clarion call that Evil Dead characters would recognize as a Necronomicon demon finally arriving at the cabin. “Starbelly” promptly follows that up with the creepy serial-killer-under-your-bed equivalent of that old THX sound that opened every movie in theaters back in the day. When the guitars hit, they have a drunken whirl about them before the song drops into a full-on sludge passage. This is a hardcore crush with a layer of molasses on it. “Piss Angel” drops a quick scream, tremolo death riff and thunderous drums for one of the most violent moments of the album. 1:30 in and it goes into a breakdown with visceral screams that will haunt you before we get one final dose of creepy speak-and-spell and some eerie chant-singing that I assume is a recording of a person in a padded cell recounting what they’ve written on the walls in fecal matter.
While Hull’s compositions and riffs will garner immediate attention in this album, Brian Harvey’s drumming is a wonder to behold. While most grind drummers are focused on pure speed, he exhibited an unreal ability to flail with the best of them and then pull back to a simple beat at the drop of a dime that more appropriately suited where the song was going. The centerpiece to “Hyperviolet” is essentially the equivalent of a live drum solo and it’s truly engaging. He opens “Junkyard God” with a drum section that if isolated, most people would likely assume was from a jazz album. But, in that same song, he drops a staccato pattern that backs one of the heaviest moments of the entire album and then unleashes a full-tilt blast-a-thon on the listener; that all happens in two minutes. Hull has said in the past that Harvey was instrumental in pushing their sound because he was able to not just keep up but to push the songs in new ways. Personally, I could listen to just the isolated drum tracks on this album and be absolutely enthralled from start to finish.
This is Beautiful, This is Art
The overall aesthetic of Prowler In The Yard plays a significant role in the experience of hearing it. Tattoo artist Paul Booth’s deeply unsettling cover art immediately sets the tone. This is an album that seems like it is meant to create equal measures of harm for the band and listener. It’s a dark and bleak slab of music whose violence radiates out brightly and that shows through in every aspect; “Jennifer” immediately sets that tone.
It’s not just that the words themselves are creepy, but that they were processed through Microsoft SAM and sound like your educational speak-and-spell toy turned into a nightmare eulogy of the most popular kid in your high school. Those noise and sound manipulation techniques that Hull practiced elsewhere all made a significant impact on the discomfort this album would cause. The layered vocals of “Tickets To The Car Crash”, the air horn sounds in “Hyperviolet”, the underwater vocals of “Snuff Film At Eleven”, and the repeated but delayed vocal expulsion on “Body Scout” all play into keeping the listener feeling like their own mental wellbeing might be slipping.
Prowler In The Yard boasts a lean natural production. The band’s lack of a bass player keeps the sound from being grounded. Sure, we’ve all experienced thin production (look what you did And Justice For All…), but this is an odd scenario where the absence of the bottom end doesn’t make the listener feel like something is missing, but simply puts them at unease. The album was recorded on 8-tracks in Harvey’s basement and it shows in the best way. The songs vary in volume and mix that will have you occasionally checking to see if you accidentally hit a button, but that ends up being part of the charm. Just when you think you’ve heard their power, the next song bursts through inexplicably louder and calls your attention back to the proceedings.
Everything on this album sounds raw, but not in a way that seems unprofessional or off-puttingly sloppy. The drums hit with the sound of a human, the guitars bend and slip under fleshy fingers and the vocals shred the limits of muscle strain. Prowler In The Yard truly feels like it captured a harrowing moment; as if people snuck microphones into a closed show and we discovered something we were never supposed to hear. That aspect makes me want to warn against going for the 2015 remaster. With that version, the album is more consistent, balanced and polished, which simply doesn’t match the deranged nature of the songs, lyrics and look of this album.
They were confused, or concerned, or shocked, or aroused, or all of the above
Speaking of lyrics, “What the fuck is wrong with this guy?” you likely ask while perusing the CD booklet you surely own.
The only thing that Prowler In The Yard can 100% guarantee is that you will have a reaction to J.R. Hayes’ lyrics. You may be repulsed, astounded, confused, infatuated, disturbed or any number of other things, but reading them does not allow for casual dismissal.
How about a few quick examples:
“She stumbles through my veins high on ash and dry semen fiending for love.” – “Trojan Whore”
“I give you everything I have wrapped in a shy kiss for you to use once and then destroy” – “Intimate Slavery”
“She went off like a firework. Trauma is sexy.” – “Tickets to the Car Crash”
“An entire year of you in a single speck of blood. The gun smiles your smile and the razor whispers your name. They are just frigid hands from the other side of the world leading me into winter” – “Pornographic Memory”
“It has been a long time since the last touch. The maggots play their dead instruments for me. Devour in the key of E. Like a symphony of throats and piano wire.” – “Body Scout”
Many lyricists create tales of violence, mental despair and any number of other topics to try and scare a listener. Hayes’ lyrics are the rare few I have personally ever been genuinely unnerved by. The upsetting imagery put into such a poetic form feels unnatural. Grindcore was born of politics or short gross stories, so this shift to the deepest recesses of a personal diary full of poems etched in blood truly helped Pig Destroyer stand out.
They Would Realize That the Ride Wasn’t Stopping
20 years later and Prowler In The Yard is still cited by new grindcore bands as an inspiration. Every aspect of it from the sounds, samples, vocals, varied influences and so much more make it unsurprising that it still stands among the all-time greats. In fact, they will be playing the album in full at this year’s Decibel Metal & Beer Fest and I have no doubt that a significant number of ticket holders decided to attend based on that fact alone.
Whether it’s the full story of Jennifer or one of the 20-second blast attacks, Pig Destroyer’s Prowler In The Yard is an album that will crawl under your skin and nest in your brain whether you like it or not.