There’s generally two schools of thought on the whole idea of remix albums – on the one hand, you have folks who consider remixes nothing more than opportunistic attempts on the part of artists (or more often, labels) to squeeze more revenue out of their catalog. But on the flipside, there are those who consider them a postmodern form of expression, in which an artist can offer up the stems of an original idea to others, including DJs, producers and so forth, who then have the opportunity to place their own unique imprint on it, occasionally transforming a song into a new entity endowed with super-mutant powers.
With only a few reservations (mostly involving major label whore-ism or DJs with overblown egos), I have both feet well-planted in the second group, and as a musician and producer I’ve dabbled in remixes myself. But I’d wager that fans of heavy music – of which iconic metal band Prong rank among the top tiers of fan adoration – aren’t typically down with the remix thing. That’s why their new release Power of the Damn Mixxxer, containing thirteen remixes of tracks from 2007 release Power of the Damager, is a potentially tricky affair. But in the end, all that matters is whether or not this thing rocks its own damn self. Does it, you ask? Get yer ass in here and find out!
Even before the so-called industrial revolution, modern metal was no longer so resistant to the idea of incorporating loops, drum machines and samples – elements once considered the exclusive domain of club-based music – into their repertoire. Yes, the idea of hammering a solid metal track into a club-friendly remix was once considered heresy, but as the lines began to soften around the definition of “true metal,” ‘80s clubs who specialized in extended dance mixes of Depeche Mode and New Order were suddenly beginning to spin danceworthy mixes of bands like Ministry – which began life as a dark electro-pop dance outfit before going 150% hard with The Land of Rape and Honey.
It’s no coincidence that Ministry founder Al Jourgensen now works closely with Prong as producer and contributor, and released both Damager and Damn Mixxxer thorough his own label, 13th Planet Records. Prong founder & frontman Tommy Victor has even become one of the label's musical elite – he recorded and toured with Ministry for several years, and contributed a song to Jourgensen’s first-ever movie soundtrack, for tits ‘n’ gore horror flick Wicked Lake.I’d consider Damager a fairly solid entry from Victor – who by then was the only original member of the Prong team – and a big step up from 2003’s Scorpio Rising (which had reportedly soured a lot of their fans). But Victor has voiced disappointment that the last album didn’t reach enough ears as he’d hoped, so last year he began searching for a new spin on the material. The resulting project called upon a massive lineup of talent, including members of Anthrax, Pitchshifter, Dope, Dillinger Escape Plan and Jourgensen side-project Revolting Cocks, to name just a handful.
Between Prong’s rock-solid rep as one of metal’s most powerful innovators, Jourgensen’s equally legendary status, and the roster of guest heavyweights onboard, it’s a given that this CD would be a bold experiment, and just might have nut-rockin’ potential. Turns out that’s a pretty fair assessment. There’s a lot of sonic depth and rhythmic complexity churning at the heart of a solid Prong track, and Damager’s engine was fairly ripe for a bit of dirty after-market tuning. Not only that, some of these re-spins actually manage to bust out in new directions I didn’t even know were on the map. If Victor intended to use this release to juice the originals to new life, then I’d say he’s pretty much succeeded in attaching jumper cables to their love-nuggets.
Among the heavy hitters in this collection are a darkly rolling spin on “Worst of It” by Pitchshifter’s Jon Clayden, which takes on a decidedly Jane's Addiction feel – right down to Victor's roughed-up vocal and a funky groove; “Power of The Damager” gets an awesomely evil proto-industrial treatment by Brian Harrah & Roman Marisak from Professional Murder Music, complete with a dirty synth bass line, choppy loops and high electro stabs that all manage to compliment Victor's style perfectly.
Also impressive are tracks like “Messages Inside of Me,” as envisioned by Seismologist, which creates a creepy ambient backdrop that builds in scope as Victor's riffs go deeper and nastier, creating a room-shaking atmosphere of doom (reminiscent of Ministry's superb instrumental “Khyber Pass”). Revolting Cocks’ Clayton Worbeck does his dirty thing to “The Banishment” with a butt-bumping porno bass groove – backed with a strange, dissonant machine drone – and builds to a kick-ass industrial climax.
“Can't Stop The Bleeding” as revised by Xris FLAM takes full advantage of the tight technical riffs to create a steamroller industrial vibe. Dope guitarist Virus stirs “Looking For Them” into his own band’s spicy blend of danceable cyber-metal to the point where it could almost pass as a Dope track itself. DJ? Acucrack takes on “No Justice” with a dual attack (notice I didn't say “two-Pronged”) of trashy drum loops and swirling filter effects that turn Victor's tormented vocals into the anguished wails of a trapped soul.
John Bechdel of mystical cyber unit False Icons takes a fairly straightforward shot at “Spirit Guide,” but really only comes into his element in the chorus, which blows open the sound in Bechdel's typically cosmic fashion, and “Changing Ending Troubling Times” as remixed by Ampedelic follows almost the exact same structure.
The only slight misfires include, sadly, an attempt by Anthrax’s Rob Caggiano, who gets all disco-riffic with a clubby kick & hi-hat beneath the simple riff and anthemic vocal chant of “The Banishment.” This approach might go against expectations, but ultimately becomes a bit routine. “3rd Option” is another test subject for electro-treatment (this time by Kourtney Klien), but with less effective results – the mechanized rhythms and glitches don't really click with Victor's old-school delivery – and “Pure Ether” by AK1200 & GENR8 mostly drowns the original in a sea of vocoder effects and blurry analog chaos.
But the WTF Award definitely goes to Greg Puciato of alt-metal act Dillinger Escape Plan, who throws out most of “Bad Fall” and reassembles it into a moody, down-tempo piano piece, with little recognizable elements remaining outside of a few vocal fragments... at least until the final third, when someone apparently tosses the whole thing into an industrial punch press.
Oddball indulgences aside, Damn Mixxxer mostly succeeds in its task, which was to put the original cuts on the rack and soup them up with high-performance mods, with a spirit of fuck-it-all fun at the core. The result is a very different ride, but in most cases each new take is more of an enhancement than a distortion of its counterpart – sometimes even an improvement – and often manages to straddle multiple genres with ease. It doesn’t always work… but when it does, it kills.