Screaming your lungs out is healthy for the mind
One Sunday afternoon last April, I wandered the dark corners of Camden basement venue Underworld, numb underfoot and bleary of mind. I was mid-way through the final day of riff mecca Desertfest and, frankly, fit for fuck all. As I coveted the cloister of my bed, unslept in, one billion miles away in Belfast, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs strolled out on stage. Led by Matt Baty, a caterwauling knight in shining armour (1990s Newcastle United shorts) they inexplicably drove out my pining for home in sixty face-searing minutes.
Nineteen months on and Pigsx7 could, if they so wished, lay claim to being the UK’s perennial sludge-doom band. A jewel in the glistening crown of the North East’s underground scene, their newly-released second album, ‘King of Cowards’, is a skull-rattling triumph of down-tuned maximalism and a feature-length flare lit by one of the very few bands to have made a dent in my solar plexus.
Having written and recorded their 2017 full-length debut, ‘Feed the Rats’, in their hometown of Newcastle, the seeds of its follow-up were sown in much less familiar climes. “We had a couple of gigs in Italy that, for whatever reason, fell through on a tour,” reveals Baty to me. “So instead of cancelling the tour, we holed up in a converted barn in the country to write. There was nothing for miles. I think the closest village was, like, a twenty-minute drive away.”
“It was a lot more relaxed this time around,” says guitarist Adam Ian Sykes. “And more enjoyable to being in a cramped bathroom in Newcastle.”
“Yeah,” says Baty. “It was nice being somewhere completely isolated from your day-to-day life. That kind of isolation that you can only get in the countryside helped.”
No matter how much you strain your ear or tilt your head, listening to ‘King of Cowards’ isn’t likely to transport you to some pastoral Italian backdrop. And it’s all the better for it. As with its predecessor, it’s a ripping blitzkrieg, bounding with doomed-out riffs and Baty’s Kilmisterian howl. From the riff-fuelled bombast of ‘A66’ to the album’s closing highlight, ‘Gloamer’, it makes for a forty-minute exhibition in pure, lysergic-dappled low-end.
With their fortuitous songwriting retreat proving successful, the band returned to Newcastle’s Blank Studios to commit their new record to tape earlier in 2018. Ten years on from being initially set up as a mobile initiative by the band’s guitarist, Sam Grant, the band were one of the first acts to record in the studio’s new premises. “It was nice for Sam to have a bit of extra time and freedom to play around with the space,” says Baty. “It made things a lot easier, from our side of things. It was going from the old studio, which was incredible but quite small. We learned to work in that space really well and make the most of what we had got. All the output was great but with the new space, there was a lot more focus on just getting it down, getting it right and enjoying it.”
‘King of Cowards’ coup de grâce is immediate and assured: just how accurately it distils the band’s incendiary live show. Where the scuzzed-out psych-doom ambushes of ‘Feed the Rats’ carried with them a certain condensed, lo-fi charm, the likes of ‘Thumbsucker’ and ‘Cake of Light’ on album number number two are widescreen and cohesive. It’s curious, then, to discover the band were a little apprehensive before stepping into Blank Studios this time around. “We were a bit worried,” reveals Sykes. “With ‘Feed the Rats’, we had been playing most of it for about four years before we recorded it. So that made it super easy when we went into the studio. With this album we didn’t have that luxury. Although we had everything written, around 75% of the album we hadn’t played live before. In the end, it was almost like we had played them live and it felt just as easy as the first album to record.”