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The first time I heard about Prong was when a friend of mine gave me the “Force Fed” cassette some time in 1989. I didn’t like it at all; I found it very simplistic, semi-amateurish barrage and didn’t even listen to it till the end. A year later I was watching the “Raw Power” metal TV show waiting to hear Trouble’s new hit “Psychotic Reaction” (from the self-titled), and there appeared Prong with a clip from their brand new album “Beg to Differ”, the title-track. I instantly recalled the “Force Fed” bash, but the music on that cut was way better composed and much more restrained, and sounded intriguing enough to make me go to the studio and record the whole album.
Prong are one of the pioneers of the 90’s modern post-thrash metal movement, and arguably its finest representatives. The album reviewed here was one of the first signs that a major metamorphosis was looming on the horizon, and that the classic metal practitioners had to start lending an ear to what was going on if they didn’t want to be sidelined and demoted to the second division. Still, Slaughter’s “The Law” and Pantera’s “Cowboys from Hell”, both released in 1990, were initially viewed more as “angry” oddities rather than as future path carvers, but the more quiet, more sophisticated side of this new trend as reflected in “Beg to Differ” kind of attracted more attention at this early transformational stage.
The New Yorkers already suggested at a new, less aggressive, direction to be explored with the release of the Chrome cover of “Third from the Sun” a year earlier, an excellent intelligent choice which nicely displayed their loftier aspirations. Then came The Peel Sessions which presented some of the band’s older material with more polished production; all this paving the way for the emergence on their sophomore opus.
The album-title couldn’t have been more appropriately chosen; yes, the guys were offering something new, but at the same time were not shifting drastically from what had already been established as evident from the opening “For Dear Life” which thrashes energetically in a familiar retro fashion for a start with a few deviant chops, and Tommy Victor’s characteristic angry semi-shouty vocals still smelling hardcore. “Steady Decline” offers a friendlier, and also crunchier, sound with the orthodox thrashy formula “broken”, leading out of the previously established rules. Then comes the already mentioned title-track, the stop-and-go gimmicky masterpiece with the groovy “shadows” fully epitomized for the first time on an official recording, not to mention the outlandish melodic digression and the unforgettable shouty chorus. The groovy jumpiness carries on with full force on the next “Lost & Found”, a creepy minimalistic post-thrasher the band “flirting” with more melody creating something which is not very easy to categorize, a pretty unique approach which Helmet also started producing at around the same time, but in a more scattered, noisier manner. ”Your Fear” returns to the thrashy confines with a steady mid-paced shred, but the cool balladic interlude and the atmospheric, ethereal ending make it another less ordinary piece.
“Take It in Hand” is a great combination of the new and the old school with crunchy rhythms giving way to a handsome headbanging Bay-Area passage and vice versa; a slow doomy section in the second half gives number an additional atmospheric boost. “Intermentrual D.S.B.” is a quirky instrumental sounding like a heavy jam session, and “Right to Nothing” is another dynamic thrasher which holds onto a consistent mid-pace with more stylish semi-technical developments. “Prime Cut” is an exercise in groovy quasi-industrial atmospherics, a tendency partially continued on the closing “Just the Same” which switches onto more aggressive thrashing later on to wrap on this unusual opus in a more intense, also more linear fashion. A live performance of “Third from The Sun” is added as a bonus further enhancing the album’s original, non-conventional character.
With the video clips of Pantera and Prong being aired extensively, one may have gotten the impression that both the media and the audience were looking for new ways of expression, like the progressive/technical direction the scene took in the late-80’s/early-90’s wasn’t enough for them. And it wasn’t, truth be told: with Nirvana’s “Nevermind” putting grunge on the map so prominently, and with Metallica’s Black Album crossing thrash out of the map, the landscape looked entirely different merely a year later. Sadly, the album reviewed here never got the recognition it deserved; that same recognition went to Pantera, for example, whose aggro-hymns found much larger acceptance among the fanbase than Prong’s sophisticated quasi-industrial, semi-progressive endeavours.
The band released “Prove You Wrong” in 1991, an obvious effort to capitalize on the previous opus’ relative success, but the music’s very laid-back, non-thrashy nature completely lacked the bite which its predecessor had in abundance. At the time when the in-vogue industrial metal acts (Ministry, Skrew, Malhavoc, Front Line Assembly, Swamp Terrorists, etc.) were using thrash metal as a base for their exploits, our fellow New Yorkers were shying away from it for no apparent reason, without any seeming rewards. The mistake was acknowledged, and “Cleansing” (1994) was a major improvement in every department, Tommy Victor’s gang sounding as angry and thrashy as ever. Well, it was the mid-90’s, and the guys were obviously not following the metal news closely to realize that old school thrash was already a foregone conclusion, and using it in any form conceivable meant irrevocable failure with no chances for redemption.
Lessons learnt, later than never, and the band were out once again with Tommy Victor leading an entirely new gang for the release of “Rude Awakening” (1996) including none other than Paul Raven, the mythical Killing Joke bass player. This “awakening” was a very different affair, the guys spacing out into a surreal progressive post-metal direction which wasn’t bad at all, but again it was not exactly in pace with the trend of the day which had whimsically changed for the umpteenth time in this flippant decade.
Regardless, Tommy Victor is one tireless auteur, and he persevered through all possible transformations the scene witnessed through the years. The band are alive and well through the new millennium with whole six albums released, and it seems as though Victor has finally found his stride in order to walk on this avenue with the finest, like he wanted to in the good old days.
This unfortunate little piece of latter day 80s thrash history (yes, I consider both 1990 and 1991 to be tied to the 80s despite the inherent misnomer) is among the more dismissed offerings, especially given the credibility built up on previous endeavors by New York crossover purveyors known by the name Prong. My own memory of the band associates it more with the modernized groove crowd embodied in mid 90s Pantera and Machine Head, mostly due to not hearing any earlier material until recently, and perhaps that is part of why I don’t find myself seeing this album as a complete exercise in mediocrity. Granted, there are dozens upon dozens of thrash metal albums that are better, some of them by less prolific and less known bands, but the story here is less one of sheer boredom and more of genre inconsistency that throws the listener for some sizable loops.
When “Beg To Differ” is at its best, it tends more towards the moderately fast and crunchy character of contemporary albums out of Anthrax and Nuclear Assault. The infusion of punk sensibilities is not quite as obvious given the more slowed down and polished feel of the whole, the latter attribute literally leaping out at all who hear it with a pristine drum sound that is processed and drenched in reverb to the point of sounding synthetic. The grit and grime of Tommy Victor is restrained on here, but still very present, and manages to take some attention off the somewhat overproduced tendencies of the whole. Practically speaking, “For Dear Life” and “Take It In Hand” are the only purely thrash oriented cruisers to be found in this mixed bag, and the flavor is definitely tilted towards a “State Of Euphoria” and “Persistence Of Time” feel. “Steady Decline” also has a pretty strong helping of NY thrash trappings appropriate to this time, but they are slightly less obvious and mixed with a fair amount of dissonant chords that deviate from the crispness that goes with said formula.
Much of the remaining contents of this album contain trace elements of the thrash sound, but are generally slowed down to grooving hard rock tempos and loaded up with odd interlude material that would become more a staple of later groove works out of Machine Head. The source for this is unclear, though parallels to Pantera’s “Cowboys From Hell” and the slowed down, funky elements of Death Angel’s “Frolic Through The Park” are the more likely culprits, especially given that the similarly oriented Cro-Mags album “Alpha Omega” wouldn’t come for another 2 years. This sound proves to be much less engaging and much less interesting that the more thrashing songs, but a number of mid-tempo punchers like “Big To Differ” (which reminds a bit of “Psycho Holiday” at times) and “Just The Same” do stand reasonably well on their own, though they don’t make as much sense when sharing space with the likes of “For Dear Life”.
It’s a little perplexing that this album generally tends to be looked at as a forgettable footnote in the history of thrash, especially since many of the same people who assert this have such wildly fond memories of Cyclone Temple’s “I Hate Therefore I Am”, which is a similarly slowed down and groove based exercise in wide accessibility and pristine recording practices. But for whatever the reason, this is just one in a series of forgotten albums by bands that seem to have completely turned their back on the past, even in light of all the renewed interest in this style. Anyone who liked the lighter end of the thrash spectrum that cropped up in the early 90s should find this a decent find; though it has its share of banal elements which will induce desire to hit the skip button a few times.
Prong's Beg To Differ was a seminal album during my early adolescent journey into metal. Being on a major label, it was immediately available (not a minor factor when growing up in rural upstate New York) and sonically accessible -- not too heavy, fast, or overtly terrifying. It fit comfortably in what was, at that time, a rather limited musical vocabulary consisting mostly of Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Soundgarden, and Metallica. It would be Prong who opened up my musical horizons, introducing me to bands like Swans, Killing Joke, Godflesh, Ministry, and Sepultura -- all of whom either influenced or expanded upon what Prong was doing. Unfortunately, this greater exposure to a variety of other musical extremes exposed Prong as being somewhat limited and dull. Even among their NYC contemporaries, it's hard to see how they stood out. Prong innovated certain aspects of post-thrash and groove metal but Helmet did the start-stop stuff better and heavier and Prong's flirtation with dissonance is timid compared to what Unsane was doing. In the end, Prong just happened to be in the right place at the right time in terms of my musical consciousness and while I hoped a fifteen year lay-off would make me reconsider the merits of this record, it ultimately fails deliver.
Things start promising enough with "For Dear Life," the album's only overt thrasher. This track cooks up a dissonant riff stew of bubbling frustration and discontent that perfectly displays the kind of crossover that NYC was known for at the time: stomping thrash with gruff vocals, dissonant solos, gang shouts, and grooving breaks. It's a brilliant track. As is "Steady Decline," which features some of the best riffing of Tommy Victor's career. Super dark and dissonant yet almost danceable and incredibly catchy, when the gang-shouts kick-in over the double-time thrash at the finish, one wonders how Prong could've ever failed to live up to this potential. Things fall apart rapidly after this. It's like Tommy just ran out of riffs, blowing through his whole arsenal in two songs. The title track has a decent post-punkish bridge in an otherwise half-baked, monotonous slog. And the quagmire just continues from there: dull riffs, boring structures, and stupid lyrics with not a single further adrenaline shot to be found. Things do close on a strong note with their live cover of Chrome's "Third From The Sun" but that strength also goes a long way towards further exposing Prong's own songwriting weaknesses. If there is one highlight among the mediocrity, it's Ted Parson's performance on drums. He's a monster but he's also better documented elsewhere.
Despite a nostalgic yearning to reconnect with Beg To Differ, it's ultimately a mediocre record with just a few standout tracks and bunch of otherwise dismal material that doesn't merit any further attention. Prong may have been an important band in their era but their music has proven to be far from timeless. And while I am grateful to them for acting as a gateway drug to better material, the bands they turned me onto were all on another level entirely.
Albums like this piss me off. They start off with a few kick ass songs before begining their slow descent into mediocrity. The opening track, For Dear Life, is easily the best song on the album. Fast, thrashy, and aggressive. Steady Decline is up next, and it's a pretty decent track. If the rest of the album continued in the vein of the first two songs, it'd be a good CD. Next is the title track, which is boring and just sort of plods along, but not overly terrible. Lost and Found is the next and last memorable song on here. A cool main riff, and the chourse is pretty damn catchy. I also love Tommy Victor's vocals on this track. After this it's all downhill, and the rest of the songs are entireably forgetable.
Overall, this album is nothing spectacular. "For Dear Life" and "Lost and Found" are two killer songs, but they hardly make up for the rest of the crap on here. It's worth picking up if you find it for 5 bucks or less, I suppose.
This is one of those albums that has one complete raging fucking track on here, a few that are almost but not quite as raging, and then some songs that manage to fail in entirety to come anywhere near the designated rage area.
"For Dear Life! For Dear Life!" Oh fuck yes, show some humility to the powers that be!!! This song starts us off in total ass kicking fashion. Textbook New York thrash, perfect middle break, these people definitely read the big book of Overkill and Nuclear Assault and Anthrax from A to Z.
And when this song is over, apparently they burned the book, stomped on the ashes a few times, and said "good riddance to too many riffs". The rest of this album is pretty damn boring - it's absolutely speaking not horrible, but when compared to that one amazingly great song....
It's half-thrash, kids... when you put in half an effort and use half the riffs and the songs are half as creative. Sure, occasionally, they still bludgeon, "Lost and Found" for instance. "The lost and found!!!" But they don't do it with nearly as much style and ability as they did on that One Glorious Track.
"Take in in Hand" comes up as a distant second best song here. Pretty decent chorus, but again, the vocals are just a bit dragged out, and the song is just a bit too slow without the riffs sufficiently filling the space. Yes kids, when you slow down by 40 per cent, you had better have the riffs to compensate. They do not.
"Just the Same" is also merely okay, and the songs I didn't mention are probably crap. Which is quite a shame, because that one song whose title I won't mention again completely fucking rules in every possible way. Don't you hate it when an album has ONE good song - the rest is "WHY!! WHY DO YOU FAIL TO RULE?!?!"