American crime novelist James Ellroy was presented with a challenge, or so the story goes. After extensive period of outlining and writing, he submitted his manuscript for L.A. Confidential, the 1950s noir that he'd become best known for in part because of its subsequent successful film adaptation. His editor then instructed him to lop off 100 pages. So Ellroy went back to the stack of paper and excised every extraneous word or overwrought phrase he could find. The end result of that exercise yielded the so-called telegrammatic prose form for which he continues to receive acclaim.
The way Matt Woods explains it to me, that's pretty much how they aspire make All Pigs Must Die albums. "You put a lot of time in getting your skeleton together and make it fuller," he says. "When it becomes too full, take things away but don't take away content."
As bassist for the metallic supergroup, which counts members of hardcore acts like Converge and The Hope Conspiracy in its ranks, Woods refers to the Ellroy anecdote as a kind of EUREKA! moment, where suddenly everything made sense. Fittingly, he takes a certain amount of pride in the actualization of that process. "It's usually pretty fast, how we work," he insists. "And most of it is subtraction."
Though no one listening would ever describe what APMD does as minimal, the group has maintained a stark, almost stoic devotion to heaviness since its 2009 inception. While just about every two-bit metal band in the overall genre's lengthy history has aspired towards now admittedly hackneyed notions of brutality, records like 2011's God Is War and 2013's Nothing Violates This Nature for Southern Lord effectively encapsulate the severity of that intent. Organically spawning a defined fanbase distinct of the musicians' prior respective endeavors, the music is unrelenting, teeming with aggression, and devoid of gimmickry.
"When we're playing together, we're just trying to make music that feels like we're going to break apart," Woods says.
That vicious spirit continues with their third full-length Hostage Animal, debuting here today in advance of its official release next week. From the blast-beaten title track to thunderous doom of closer "Heathen Reign," APMD damn the cliches once again with an album that touches on many of metal's myriad subgenres without ever succumbing to their comfort zones. Rancid riffs and infernal grooves collide, while vocalist Kevin Baker's foul bark further projects the sort of misanthropy and nihilism inherent in their overall sound. Woods and drummer Ben Koller comprise a robust rhythm section, capable of ungodly tempos and unpredictable twists.
New to the band's ranks this time around is Trap Them guitarist Brian Izzi, turning the taut quartet into a veritable pentagram. Creatively and functionally, the impact felt significant for Woods, allowing the band greater freedom in terms of songwriting and performance. "We don't have to worry about translating it live," Woods says of the new material. "The band really took on a new life."
The fresh addition feels not only natural to Woods but preordained. Having played the first APMD shows with Trap Them on the bill, the group had long spoken about bringing on a second guitarist to partner with Adam Wentworth, going so far as to mention Izzi's name specifically. A self-described fan of his work with Trap Them, which incidentally will play a handful of farewell shows later this year, Woods takes pains to describe what made their sound so special. "I really like music where you know where it comes from, but doesn't exist [in that way]," he says. "I've always admired them."
While somewhat nebulous when trying to put it into words, that principled work ethic proves incredibly clear in the finished product of the Hostage Animal sessions. "When you're trying to have a pretty diverse slate of influences, you can become undisciplined," Woods says, acknowledging both the overlapping and disparate tastes of the quintet's membership. "All of us were focused on trimming things down to as little as possible."
That economy of composition also has a great deal to do with the logistics of attempting to make an APMD record. "It's tough to get us all in the same room," Woods says, citing daily lives in and outside of music, the sorts of responsibilities one expects from guys well into their thirties. In the four years since Nothing Violates This Nature, he's experienced the birth of his child and the passing of his brother. "The problems are so much worse when you're older."
Furthermore, America has undergone a great deal of change in that period time, with growing concerns over the rise of movements like white nationalism and the alt-right. That proffers some amount of difficulty for a band whose name comes from an album by Death In June, Douglas Pearce's long-running neo-folk project that controversially employs lyrical and visual references to the influences and events surrounding the Third Reich.
Woods dismisses any connection or commonality between All Pigs Must Die and the right-wing, musically or otherwise. "It begins and ends with those four words—and that's it," he stresses. "I know who we are as people." In his view, the pigs that embody their moniker are a broader existentialist target. "I look at the world today and it's not worth worrying about. It's just not good out there. I find so much of it to be an illusion or a delusion and I'm not going to be cowed by anyone."
Rather than Death In June, with all its thorny politics and fascist runeology, Woods would much rather compare All Pigs Must Die to Electric Wizard. "They used to bill themselves as the heaviest band in the universe and I always thought that was the coolest thing," he says. "I don't want to say we copped that attitude, but that's how it started, and where we've arrived at."
Gary Suarez is on Twitter.