Last time we checked in on guitarist Tommy Victor was through his mighty contribution to Relapse, the first post-reunion album of industrial metal giants Ministry. But it's been ages since I heard some new output from Victor's own legendary metal outfit Prong, which he founded in New York back in 1986. After a couple of turbulent decades, Victor reformed the group in 2007 (the lineup included Killing Joke bassist Paul Raven, who unfortunately passed away that year) and recorded the band's previous studio record Power of the Damager and its companion remix release Power of the Damn MiXXXer, with Ministry founder/frontman Al Jourgensen acting as producer. (Check out our review of MiXXXer here.) Victor has collaborated with dozens more of metal's greatest since then, and now he's fired up his own custom machine again, with Steve Evetts – whose credits include Dillinger Escape Plan and Suicide Silence – overseeing production on Prong's new studio album Carved Into Stone. Read on for the complete breakdown!
While hair bands were still dominating MTV and thrash & hardcore were steadily crawling their way up from the underground, Prong was establishing their place among the mightiest pillars of alternative metal, particularly in the early '90s with their classic releases Beg To Differ and Cleansing – the latter album containing their now legendary single "Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck" – and The Prong sound would eventually infuse the creations of a new generation of groove metallers, including Pantera, White Zombie and Korn. While Victor is hesitant to call Carved Into Stone a return to that foundational style, he does admit that the new record "literally has every strand of Prong's DNA spliced together in a way that feels more exciting than it has in some time... the songs I was writing felt more like Prong than anything I had written since Raven was in the band."
If I had just two words to categorize the "classic" Prong sound, I'd describe it as "coldly aggressive"... which is probably how doctors refer to a highly unstable mental patient with a history of violence. Victor's riffs are intricately machined and smooth as hell, with some of metal's tightest transitions to link them together, but there's also a dark undercurrent of madness beneath, which is well sustained here by the bass boom of Tony Campos (who also contributed to the new Ministry album) and the tight grooves of drummer Alexei Rodriguez (3 Inches of Blood). That dark thread begins immediately with the explosive opening cut "Eternal Heat," which represents the band's trademark no-bullshit presentation, with each song segment carefully regimented, shifting effortlessly from hot thrash to steady groove. Victor's vocals are still rough and raw, but with enough pitch purity to allow for some cool multi-track harmonies. "Keep On Living In Pain" goes deeper and darker with its dinosaur-sized chugs, alternating with vocals over swift tremolo picking in the verses and an old-school power-chord chorus. "Ammunition" is carried along on a wave of multi-layered riffs, mixing choppiness with fat, dark sweeps and a scream that kicks off the sinister breakdown. Up till now, none of these tracks would feel like smooth upgrades from old-school Prong... that is, until the arrival of "Revenge... Best Served Cold," which is also the latest single. This one could easily have been a lost track from Cleansing, because it captures everything that killed on that record. Instead of wasting words describing this one, I'd rather just direct you the music video for "Revenge," which you can watch at the end of this article.
"State of Rebellion" is a mid-tempo cut with a smoky feel to the riffs, and also one of the few tracks on this album to add some eerie ambient touches and reverb/delay effects. The excellent "Put Myself To Sleep" is a dark anthem that transitions rapidly from a haunting mid-range punk tone (a little reminder of Victor's tenure with Danzig) to harsh down-tuned tremolos; it also sports some of Tommy's best voice work. "List Of Grievances" falls solidly on the old-school thrash side of the fence, but the vocals give it a distinctly Prong flair. Next up is the title track, which begins with a memorable sludgy riff that soon splits into double-time, then back again for a supremely doomy chorus. The evil voice treatments that open "Subtract" carve a path for the simple but hard-driving rhythms and beefy refrain. "Path Of Least Resistance" has the same burnished picked-chord textures that characterized albums like Prove You Wrong, and it's got the same ominous edge. The album closes nicely on the chug-mad "Reinvestigate," which expands its sonic scope to include occasional washes of keyboards, a wicked drum pattern on the chorus and a sweet, crunchy guitar solo.
While Power of the Damager was a strong piece of work and established that Prong still had serious shit to get done in the 21st Century, Carved Into Stone represents Tommy and company virtually hitting the reset button and rediscovering the massive grooves that put them on the music map in the first place. Being a long-time fan, I'm pretty damn excited about hearing pure, unfiltered Prong again, and I'd wager any supporter of modern metal would agree.
Want a potent sip of Chef Tommy's new brew? Taste this chilling new video for "Revenge... Best Served Cold," courtesy of AOL Noisecreep.