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After spending nearly a decade in various states of inactivity and mediocrity, Prong have got their collective butts into gear and released the album that 1996's flawed "Rude Awakening" should have been with a superb little monster called "Carved Into Stone".
First, a warning for the old schoolers: "Carved Into Stone" is certainly not a return to the crossover thrash of the late 1980's or even the faster predecessor "Power of the Damager." Instead this is mainly mid paced Groove Metal which can be thrashy at times.
The mid pace doesn't detract from the album due to some great song writing. Indeed this is the kind of quality song writing seldom seen since the 1990's. Songs such as "Revenge…Best Served Cold" happily sit up there with classics such as Pantera's "Walk," Machine Head's "Ten Ton Hammer" or Prong's own "Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck" in terms of riffy catchiness and memorable anthemic choruses.
A denser than usual production also helps support the generally mid-paced nature of the album, giving it a heaviness that balances the melodic parts. Though one does wonder what the album would have sounded like if Terry Date had worked on it.
The faster songs such as "Eternal Heat" or "Keep On Living In Pain" shine through as well with each being a distinct and memorable song in it's own right as opposed to the generic fast numbers practiced by so many thrash bands these days. And whilst they may not be as bottom heavy or as fast as more modern acts, they have their own brand of furious aggression.
Tommy Victor proves he has still got the ability to write some superb riffs and equally catchy vocal lines. He also crafts some killer solos, something which he wasn't necessarily known for and certainly not for the last few decades.
The industrial elements are still a no-show, though some of the drumming is at times industrial such as on "Revenge…Best Served Cold." However the lack of industrial elements does not make the album deficient in anyway.
Indeed, "Carved Into Stone" sounds remarkably fresh for an album whose basic style originates in the early 1990's. This is the album Prong should have released in 1996. It still doesn't reach the lofty heights reached by "Cleansing," but it is an excellent and memorable listening experience and great proof that the much maligned groove metal genre can still offer some quality music in the twenty first century.
Some bands, as they age, show signs of slowing down. Not necessarily in terms strictly of speed, either in how fast they play, or how fast albums come out, but in terms of the quality & vitality of their material. Other bands just get better with age, continuing to hone their core sound while massaging it and adding elements as they release a new album. Prong, while thought to be lost after 1996's "Rude Awakening", came back to mixed reception in 2002, and then went on an extended break again after Tommy Victor joined the Danzig ranks for touring. 2007's "Power of the Damager" was a ray of light, offering hope that Tommy hadn't abandoned his audience, and it was a fiery assault worthy of the Prong name. 2012 saw the band return after another 5-year break, to some fanfare. Some hailed it as the best thing they'd done since their magnum opus, 1994's "Cleansing". Does it hit that mark? Almost.
I will qualify that statement by saying that if you're not a fan of anything Prong has released since 1996, you'd do well to check out both this album and its predecessor for quality Prong material. If you have and you're still not digging it, you couldn't call yourself much more than a casual fan of their material. While I agree that "Cleansing" remains their most consistently captivating and quality effort, they've reached highs with their 2 most recent albums, from differing angles. "Power of the Damager" is a powerful (excuse the pun) record with a lot of grit, energy, passion, and Tommy's signature riffing. "Carved Into Stone" follows that aural assault up with a slightly more studied approach that is no less entertaining, just a bit more subdued and restrained.
Where "Power of the Damager" went for the jugular more often than not, "Carved Into Stone" prefers a more melodic approach. There are definitely moments of ferocity, like the muscular opener "Eternal Heat", "Keep On Living In Pain", "List of Grievances" or the punchy "Subtract". The bulk of the record, however, veers toward the more mid-paced, melodic territory of the material on "Rude Awakening". Before the haters cry foul, let me say that while I don't think "Rude Awakening" is a bad record by any stretch, I recognize that it's not Prong's best work. But on the whole, that album was all about mid-paced, groovy, melodic songs versus a more diverse approach. This same approach is used here, but to greater effect, as the set of songs is stronger overall. Where "Rude Awakening" had a number of songs that ran into one another without a lot of individual identity, "Carved Into Stone" corrects those mistakes with better melodies, more memorable songs, and improved pacing.
Tommy's signature guitar crunch is in tow here, and the production values highlight that by giving the guitar a very "up front" kind of position in the mix. The guitar tone here is a bit different than that of "Damager" and has a touch less bite overall, but is a little meatier at the same time. As always, Tommy's guitar riffing takes center stage, and he sounds great here. Something that we get to hear Tommy do far more on this record than he's done before is solo - a number of the songs have guitar solos. These aren't all just short blasts, or the "follow the vocal melody" variety either, as there are a couple extended solos. Hearing this on the record was at first a bit jarring, and felt a bit "tacked on" or out of place, but after having spun the record numerous times, it makes sense and comes off more naturally than at first listen. In addition, assuming I even have to say it, Tommy's pinch harmonics sound as awesome as ever. Vocally, Tommy sounds good, though he is admittedly less energetic than on "Damager", which had a lot of interesting vocal things going on. But he sings melodically and gets the job done.
Ministry's Tony Campos does an admirable job on the bass, providing the necessary counterpoint for Tommy's riffing without being overly flashy or doing anything that takes away from the core of the Prong sound, which is the groove and crunch of Tommy's guitar. Bass sits nicely in the mix as well, being audible and able to be heard as its own instrument, yet providing that necessary thump and thickness to the proceedings. Drum work by Alexei Rodriguez is a highlight. He replicates a lot of the groove-based approach that previous drummers have done where appropriate, but he adds a lot of double-bass in places where some previous skinsmen would have just continue to groove on. It's a nice change of pace, and gives the album a bit more personality in that area than some previous albums have had. Drums are also placed well in the mix, not overpowering either bass or drums, but sitting quite nicely beside them.
I made mention of the songs here being strong, and they are. "Eternal Heat" is a great opener, filled with energy and great riffing. "Keep On Living In Pain" follows that up to complete a one-two punch of powerful material, complete with groovy chorus and strong riff. "Revenge...Best Served Cold" is the best "single" the band has released since "Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck", even slightly beating out the awesome "Controller" from "Rude Awakening". "Put Myself To Sleep" is a song that marries both the energy and melodicism that Prong is known for. "List Of Grievances" keeps the record interesting by picking up the pace and giving the listener a kick in the ears, as well as pulling out one of the longer, more killer solos Tommy played on the record. The title track then slows things down for a heavy dose of groove, but keeps things melodic with a hooky chorus. "Subtract" also picks up the pace again and provides another strong dose of energy. The album has no lack of quality songwriting, that's for sure. Lyrically, Tommy treads the usual murky waters of disenfranchisement, human failing, paranoia, and general distaste for the state of affairs of the world. So, as usual, there's nothing new here, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
With all this positivity, where's the downside? I love this record, and have listened to it countless times, but I can't shake the feeling that Tommy is so close to achieving a "personal best" and is just barely missing the mark. I loved "Power of the Damager" as well, but felt that the album's set of songs wasn't as strong as they could be. This has a better grouping of material, but lacks the punch, aggression, and urgency of its predecessor. As I mentioned before, Tommy's vocals on this album are a bit "safe" for him. He sounds great, but with all he did on "Damager", one wonders if he didn't like the results, or just felt that the material here, being of a more melodic nature, didn't benefit from those flourishes, and I'd agree. I guess I just feel that if Tommy took the best elements of "Damager" (i.e. the aggression, energy, passion, and a more varied vocal approach), and combined those with the best elements on display here (overt melodicism, strong memorable songs, quality production/mix, pacing), he'd be at that apex where he might be able to match or even exceed "Cleansing". The other potential hiccup is the production - Prong has sounded good on every post-"Cleansing" album, don't get me wrong. But "Cleansing" had something in that Terry Date production that gave it that extra push. That record has this really "dense" sound that gives it an air of heaviness that other Prong efforts haven't quite had. The foreboding tone of the record lent itself so well to the material that it was the perfect storm of creative songwriting, performance, and production.
Overall, I feel like both "Damager" and this outing have explored separate sides of the same Prong coin, and while I dig the predecessor's urgency and aggression, this record has the edge because of its songwriting and the quality of the whole package. If Tommy can come off this album and follow it up with something equally strong, yet bring in a bit more variety in the vocal department and more contrasts between the melodic and the aggressive, and hone the production to give the whole thing that extra ounce of power, he just might pull it off. In the meantime, "Carved Into Stone" is an album I will continue to listen to and enjoy, knowing that at the very least, Tommy isn't resting on his laurels and continues to write and record great stuff. Just don't take another 5 years to give us a follow-up this time, mkay? Highly recommended.
**A word on the vinyl release! I own both the retail digipak CD issue, and the 2xLP edition. The vinyl itself sounds great, and while not probably 180g, is at least reasonably weighty enough to feel good when you're setting it on the turntable. The brown marble platters are a nice touch. My only gripes are that there are no lyrics on either inner sleeve (lazy design choice), and that there's no indication ANYWHERE on the records, packaging, inner or outer sleeves that these platters spin at 45 RPM instead of the requisite 33 1/3 RPM that most LPs opt for. 45 RPM was the right choice for a double LP, I just wish somewhere it had indicated that. On the plus side, the vinyl edition comes with a bonus track, a cover of Rammstein's "Feuer Frei!" track. It's a good cover, sufficiently sounding like Prong but being recognizable as a cover of the original. It's curious that Prong chose to cover the track, because Rammstein could probably have been accused of being influenced by Prong, so I guess it comes full circle. It sounds like a song that Tommy could have written, and the performance speaks to that. Also, the vinyl version comes with the full album (minus bonus track) on CD in a paper sleeve! So if you're a vinyl enthusiast who likes getting the digital download with purchase, this is even better. It's a shame that this is the only place outside of iTunes to get the cover track, but ultimately the album itself is the main draw.
This review originally appeared on MetalFRO's Musings:
Tommy Victor has gotten some good press as the go-to guy for groups like Danzig and Ministry, but he arguably has the most respect as the mastermind of Prong, a leading influence in the groove and industrial metal genres. This is the group’s first studio album since 2007’s Power Of The Damager and is the first to feature an entirely new rhythm section that consists of Static-X/Ministry bassist Tony Campos and 3 Inches Of Blood drummer Alexei Rodriguez.
For the most part, this doesn’t stray too far from the typical Prong sound. Unfamiliar listeners may find the last few Ministry albums to be a good reference point as the guitars are similarly thrashy and the tone is about as mechanical. Of course, Prong doesn’t have much in the ways of samples or programming and occasionally lets their hardcore punk influences be known. In addition, Victor’s voice gives things a unique character. Too gruff to be clean and too melodic to be harsh, his middle-ground vocals carry the songs well and never sound too bland.
But while the guitars and vocals are what ultimately drive the compositions, the rhythm section definitely has its moments. The bass isn’t too flashy for most of the time though it dominates during the verses of “State Of Rebellion.” The same could be said for the drums as a number of beats that stand out on tracks like “Revenge . . . Best Served Cold.”
With there being eleven songs on display, Carved Into Stone is fairly diverse though most of the tracks are fast, upbeat numbers. “Eternal Heat” starts things off on an incredibly thrashy note that is later picked by the solid “Ammunition” and “List Of Grievances.” From there, “Revenge . . . Best Served Cold” and “Put Myself To Sleep” are the most upbeat songs with the former having an almost danceable groove and the latter bringing in some happy punk influence.
Of course, there are a few solid oddballs on here. The title track and “Path Of Least Resistance” bring about murkier sounds and slower tempos though the latter goes out with a particularly thrashy climax. Songs like “Keep On Living In Pain” and “State Of Rebellion” are worth noting for their mid-tempo grooves that should remind old listeners of the ever-popular “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck.”
As expected, this isn’t a very thought provoking release but it does manage to serve as high quality fun. It’s hard to say where it fits in the overall Prong collection but I think old and new fans alike can’t steer wrong in giving this one a chance. Disgruntled Ministry fans are also advised to check this out; it isn’t as characteristic as Uncle Al’s ramblings but it’s a bit more consistent and a lot less stupid…
“Keep On Living In Pain”
“Revenge . . . Best Served Cold”
“State Of Rebellion”
“Put Myself To Sleep”
Originally published at http://suite101.com
"Carved Into Stone" is the best Prong release since "Cleansing," and maybe the band's finest record to date. In essence, the album's color collects an impressive smorgasbord of almost every era of the group's adventures, only now the kinks or minor complaints are tweaked and ready to roll. Tommy Victor quickly rejuvenated Prong with "Power of the Damager," which was a decent return to Prong's "classic" sound and thankfully a few universes away from the horribly arid and tiresome disgrace of a release that was "Scorpio Rising." With "Carved Into Stone," Victor has made Prong a relevant force in the world of groove/thrash metal again, mainly because the record stays true to itself and cherishes its roots and previous endeavors; it is a superb representation of everything Prong is, was, and should've been.
Prong's style always transgressed to and from different mediums; at first the trio was immersed in crossover/thrash, then they entered the groove sound and eventually applied industrial overtones at the height of the group's popularity. The direction here stings like an amalgamation of everything released under the Prong banner, not including the industrial themes. It's overall a very impressive feat, featuring the finest riffs Victor has ever penned along with some exceptionally great examples of prime songwriting. First and foremost, "Carved Into Stone" is a Prong album. Nothing out of the ordinary as expected. Only now, the songs are smooth and mighty, chopping between a plethora of entertaining riffs and song structures with really no filler to boot. If anything, "Carved Into Stone" sounds like a band reborn.
As I said, there's nothing totally out of the blue here, but the passion and sense of wellbeing make a noteworthy impression that most of Prong's last few albums did not. Songs like "Eternal Heat" or "Revenge...Best Served Cold" are among some of the finest Prong slices one will ever find; too many great moments to mention, really. There are maybe one or two numbers which fall beneath the weight of the record, but nothing remarkably bad exists, so I really can't complain. Also worth mentioning that the production is easily one of the finest facets of the album as well. The overall mix here slams every note and idea right in your face in a balanced yet professional manner, and it really brings a lot of the leftover energy outwards.
I thought Prong's stint of glory was discarded somewhere back in the 1990s. After "Cleansing," the band's musical route went into a total nosedive, cumulating in the mediocre "Rude Awakening" and finally meeting the bottom of the barrel during the seven years it took to create "Scorpio Rising." The glimmers of fire sprouting throughout "Power of the Damager" became full-on infernos of energy and force, completely eclipsing the mundane slump that plagued this band for years. "Carved Into Stone" restores every bit of credibility lost within the faction's brief hibernation and experimental phase, and it makes for an appealing experience on pretty much every level. Thanks for kicking my butt Tommy Victor; I wasn't using it for anything anyway.
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com