Ah, the B-Sides release. A relic from the days when the music industry’s business model was all about pushing product on store shelves. When a label didn’t have anything fresh to offer, they’d just package together with the least rotten of whatever was leftover from the last album and ship it to market.
These were usually buyer beware type situations. I personally was not prepared for the unvarnished side of many of my favorite artists that I encountered on these releases. Ill-advised covers, demo versions of familiar songs that were hilariously out of time and/or tune, and 20-minute interludes of contextless studio banter. Some people may have found this kind of thing charming. To me, it was a living hell. Tomato-tomahto.
Fast forward to today, and the B-side comp has gained new purchase in the age of COVID, with artists willing to repackage previously unfinished or rare material to stay connected with fans in the face of an uncertain future. Unsurprisingly, most of these releases have been pretty interesting, smething that I would attribute to the high-level control artists have in deciding what to release, and the direct feedback they receive from fans through social media and flexible, digital market places like Bandcamp.
This brings us to the subject of this review, The Octagonal Stairway, the fourth EP from Virginia’s Pig Destroyer.
At only six tracks, The Octagonal Stairway, will give fans what they’ve come to love about the swine-slaughtering, grind grim-lords while also demonstrating a willfulness possessed of a harrowing pandemonium (in the original sense, as in a storm comprised of every demon imaginable).
The title track opens the album, and despite having been featured on a previous release, is no less impactful here. Slamming into a leaden, hardcore beat from the outset, it streaks down the gullet of a cyclone of cross-fire guitars and Misery Index-tutored, clean, and surrounded grooves, slowly being widdled down into bone fragments before splashing into a swamp of acidic feedback.
“The Calvary” charges in next with an apparently level of deadly resolve, a death-thrash phalanx marauding across a twisted sonic-soundscape of blood and guts and shit, at a pace that would cause Napalm Death to lapse into a white-knuckled, mouth-foaming fit. The advance continues until overwhelmed by an eerily bright synthesizer outro, which leaves the impression that the band had been abducted by an alien spacecraft mid-recording session.
The final rocker on the EP is “Cameraman,” a radioactive, ranging menace that shapeshifts before your eyes into innumerable varieties of psyche-scaring monstrosities.
It is at this point where The Octagonal Stairway takes a turn. If you thought the proceeding tracks where the strained products of an unhealthy mind, you will need to book an appointment with your own therapist after witnessing the psychic and sensational whiplash of “News Channel 6.” “Channel 6” can best be described as an insurgent interlude that mimics the way consuming and processing media in the 21st century feels and acts as a transformative threshold for the second half of the album.
The next track, “Head Cage” is presumably named for the band’s 2018 full length, which didn’t include this, or any title track. Which is fine. That album is weird enough as it is. “Head Cage” will immediately get under your skin with a bubbling hive of wiggling, squirming feedback and boiling splashes of lysergic pus, feeling more like a Nurse with Wounds navel-gazing exercise than anything resembling a grindcore track.
Both “Channel 6” and “Head Cage” act as warning signs for the final exhibition of “Sound Walker (Featuring Iggor Cavalera).” A pulsing, slow-simmering burst of Throbbing Gristle-spliced malice that feels like a peyote ritual that involves you being buried to your neck in an anthill in the high noon sun while a cobra is methodically fed down your throat. You won’t survive, but it will be a hell of a trip!