Posted by: Necci – May 15, 2012
Prong are a New York-based metal band who've existed intermittently since the mid-80s. Singer/guitarist Tommy Victor founded the band with powerhouse drummer Ted Parsons, who had previously played with Swans. The two were joined by several different bass players, keyboardists, and second guitarists over the next decade or so, during which they released half a dozen albums. The most popular of those albums, 1994's Cleansing, gave the world "Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck," the single Prong are most widely known for. That album featured Killing Joke members Paul Raven and John Bechdel on bass and keyboards, respectively, and displayed an industrial tinge. However, my personal preference where Prong's work is concerned was always for the albums they released a few years before Cleansing. The mix of crossover-tinged thrash metal and chunky midtempo mosh riffs that they presented on Beg To Differ (1990) and Prove You Wrong (1991) was what originally made me a Prong fan. Songs like "Lost And Found" and "Unconditional" are still personal favorites over two decades later. Carved Into Stone is, if anything, a mix of the different styles explored on Beg To Differ and Cleansing, and the combination works well... most of the time.
The original Prong lineup disbanded in 1996, and Victor went on to play in Danzig and Ministry, occasionally reforming Prong with a revolving cast of supporting members. Carved Into Stone is the third studio album they've released since their initial reformation in 2000, and the first with bassist Tony Campos (Ministry, Static-X) and drummer Alexei Rodriguez (Catharsis, Trial, 3 Inches Of Blood) in the band. The album is produced by Steve Evetts, who has previously worked with Poison The Well and The Dillinger Escape Plan, among others. He was clearly the right man for the job, as the entire album has a thick, solid production that fits perfectly with Prong's sound. The album's first few songs will make any listener who has come to Carved Into Stone seeking heavy thrash power very happy. Opener "Eternal Heat" is particularly pounding, with chunky, galloping rhythm guitar riffs and quick, powerful drumming from Rodriguez, who even throws in a couple of brief blast beats. "Keep On Living In Pain" is slower, but just as heavy, using more rhythm guitar gallops to create the perfect soundtrack for some serious headbanging. There are several other notably heavy tracks on this album--"List Of Grievances" is the fastest, letting Rodriguez loose on the type of fast hardcore beats that were a regular part of his repertoire in 90s hardcore bands Trial and Catharsis. Meanwhile, the album's title track is slow and sludgy in a manner that recalls classic Sabbath riffage; Victor's vocals on the chorus even sound kind of like Ozzy.
If there's anything that keeps Carved Into Stone from being an all-around hit, it's the detours into melody that occur on several of the tracks herein. The album's leadoff single, "Revenge... Best Served Cold," was the first song I heard from it, and in spite of the fact that I went into my first listen really wanting to like it, I was put off by the chorus. The problem isn't Victor's melodic singing--he's better at the transition from heavier, harsher vocals into more overt melodies than a lot of thrash/metal vocalists are, and he does it well on several other tracks on this album. The issue is that the chorus riff doesn't really even sound heavy. Evetts' production and Rodriguez's pounding drums can only disguise so much, and underneath all that thick crunchy sound, the chorus riff on "Revenge... Best Served Cold" is straight up radio rock. That's not what I come to a Prong album to hear, and whether Tommy Victor wrote this riff because he's honestly into it or because he had to deal with record company pressure to write a single is not really even relevant. What matters is that riffs like this dilute the power of an album that could have been quite heavy, and keep it from being a solid listening experience from beginning to end. Sadly, "Revenge... Best Served Cold" is not the only offender--other than a chunky pre-chorus, "Put Myself To Sleep" is loaded down with multiple radio-rockin' melodic riffs, and "Path Of Least Resistance" is reminiscent of Pantera's "Cemetery Gates," in that it sounds like a fundamentally heavy band attempting to jump on the power-ballad bandwagon. At least when Pantera released that song 22 years ago, at the height of power-ballad chart dominance, it made sense as a career move. What's Prong's excuse?
Getting the chance to review this album led me to do some deep excavation of my record collection. Over the past week or so, in addition to several plays through Carved Into Stone, I've also replayed Beg To Differ, Prove You Wrong, Cleansing, and even their 1988 debut, Force Fed, a few times, remembering the Prong records I loved as a teenager. Doing so reminded me of something I'd completely forgotten--in addition to containing classic tunes like "Lost And Found," "Unconditional," and "Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck," all of those albums contained at least one or two duds. It seems that back in the day, Prong's albums were no more of a consistent pleasure for me than Carved Into Stone is. However, the good songs on those old albums were both good enough and plentiful enough to remain much more strongly in my mind than any of their down moments did. Will I think of Carved Into Stone the same way in 20 years that I think of Prove You Wrong right now? Only time will tell, but it seems likely. I always enjoy its highlights, and unless I'm paying close attention while listening, the lesser tracks don't bother me enough to make me reach for the skip button. On the whole, I think if any mistake was made where this album was concerned, it was the choice to release a song with potential mainstream appeal as the first single, rather than a straight down the middle thrash track (my suggestion would have been "Keep On Living In Pain"). It's been a long time since Prong was in the spotlight; right now, instead of trying to win over new potential listeners, they need to shore up their base.
By Andrew Necci