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Beyond the Boring

Crucialfest 8 brings grindcore pioneers Pig Destroyer to shred Utah for the first time.

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Pig Destroyer - JOEY WHARTON
  • Joey Wharton
  • Pig Destroyer

What started as Crucialfest founder Jarom Bischoff's dream of bridging the gap between heavy music and the general public is now a force to be reckoned with. What began as the baby mutant dinosaurs of small venues across town has now grown into a Godzilla-sized music festival gracing the Beehive State, and this year sports its most important lineup of extreme, alternative music. Crucialfest 8 is turning heads like The Exorcist—and what better location for two straight days of headbanging, day-drinking and food-trucking than Utah State Fairpark?

Out of the 40 bands and artists on this year's bill, one stands out for making their Utah debut: grindcore pioneers Pig Destroyer. "On stage, for us, is the best part of being in a band," says Blake Harrison, who's best known for Pig Destroyer's eerie and sometimes playful electronics and samples. His latest work—peppered into the band's sixth studio album, Head Cage, released Sept. 7—creates a theatrical atmosphere mixed with adrenaline and adventure. "It's not always about a violent line or necessarily something aggressive sounding—you gotta listen, hear dialogue and sound, and take it out of context," he says.

Explaining more about the inspirations for his dark samples, Harrison adds, "There's this Sam Neill movie that I love called Possession—I've got maybe 20 samples from that I've been trying to wedge in on [2012's] Book Burner and Head Cage."

For those unaccustomed to Pig Destroyer (or grindcore in general), the meaning behind the band's name is simple: destroying cops. But before going all aggro and #MAGA, remember that Pig Destroyer's music eviscerates many topics—everything from religion and serial stranglers to former Vice President Dick Cheney taking out bystanders on a Halliburton jetpack. Formed in Alexandria, Va., in 1997 by vocalist J.R. Hayes, guitarist Scott Hull and drummer John Evans, the band stuck to that lineup until Harrison joined the fold on 2007's Phantom Limb, taking Pig Destroyer in a noisy, aggressive direction.

"Grindcore and extreme music has been the bastard child of the music industry," Harrison says. "I was having a conversation with my buddy the other day, and he said, 'One of the great things about metal is when you get into it, you're basically into it for life.' The fans are very rabid—extreme music is not a casual thing. It's not like picking up a Keith Urban record and going, 'This is cool, I guess.'"

After releasing five studio albums, Pig Destroyer added bassist John Jarvis in 2013. Five years later, Head Cage hit the streets, and Pig Destroyer is now ready to blow up the stage with new tunes. Still, it's no secret that the grindcore influencers take their time with each record and don't tour very often, which makes this year's Crucialfest one for the books. "It's hard," Harrison says. "We all have day jobs; Scott's got a wife and a family. A lot of people think it's financial, but a lot of it's just time. We can't be on the road for months straight. It's how the band is set up and how we function."

Joining Pig Destroyer as Crucialfest headliners are explosive goth/folk-rocker Chelsea Wolfe, whose latest record Hiss Spun, recorded by Converge's Kurt Ballou, has been winning over metal fans since its 2017 release. Chicago's Russian Circles bring instrumental rock to the table, while Pig Destroyer's second day co-headliners are legendary doom-metal veterans Neurosis, who evolved from the Bay Area punk squall of 1987's Pain of Mind to pioneering sludgy post-metal.

Bischoff says booking Neurosis in particular has been a personal goal for years, and local metalheads agree: "Each year, I ask the question, 'If you could see anyone at Crucialfest, who would it be?'" Bischoff says. "Neurosis always makes the list." With four decades of ego-free exploration, Neurosis' founding trio of Scott Kelly, Dave Edwardson and Jason Roeder still push metal boundaries.

Other musical highlights of the two-day festival include the metalcore of Black Tusk, Mutoid Man and Cult Leader; the psychedelia of Earthless and Royal Thunder; the folk-tinged Americana of Chuck Ragan and Amigo the Devil; the aggressive hip-hop of Dem Atlas, Dalëk and Shredders; the electronic experimentation of Dance with the Dead, Magic Sword and Dan Terminus; the hardcore punk of Slaves (U.K.), Street Sects and Zig Zags; and at least 15 local bands. As Bischoff says, "You're not into metal? Me neither. This is not a metal festival. Crucialfest is true to the spirit of underground Salt Lake City music and culture."

Crucialfest 8 also marks the debut of Crucialdrag, featuring Biqtch Puddin' (reigning queen of The Boulet Brothers' Dragula reality show), fellow Dragula competitor Ursula Major and many more local and national killer queens. At the end of the day, Crucialfest not only represents Utah's diverse community, but also displays a different side of Salt Lake City that goes beyond the boring, clean-cut vanilla stereotype. And extremity is equally as important as the status quo.

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