Saturday, February 6, 2016

Album Review: Prong - "X - No Absolutes"

Over nearly thirty years, Tommy Victor and Prong have dictated the pace and evolution of groove metal from raw experiment to raw art.  The innovator that seemingly launched a thousand bands, Prong has always suffered the fate of having their disciples attain more fame than the originator, the living shadow of headline acts like Korn and Nine Inch Nails.  Never to be slowed though, Prong returns in 2016 with “X – No Absolutes,” the band’s third full-length record in as many years and fourth since 2012.

So what to expect from “X”?  Well, in base terms, more of the same, but in a good way.  Victor and company are still writhing deep in the traditional muck of groove metal, fuzzing out their amps and carving cavernous swaths with full, thumping tones.  To hear Prong is to hear the birth of groove metal over and over again – the genre in its unadulterated, original form.

There is, then, a certain familiarity when listening to “X,” regardless of the fact that these are entirely new compositions.  “X” echoes with many of the same tones that have followed the genre through a hundred different permutations, whether the blues-based thunder of Clutch, the distorted wail of Corrosion of Conformity or the hammering downbeat of White Zombie.  Even just the opener, “Ultimate Authority” brings back gleeful memories of the late 90s, when it was still possible for a band to be incredibly heavy and also rhythmic and melodic at the same time.

What separates “X – No Absolutes” from other albums in the genre, and even from other Prong albums, is the maturity and emotional context of the content.  Victor plays a diverse hand for this record, whether he’s crushing out ripping grooves for “Without Words” or plaintively reaching out for the surprisingly powerful “Do Nothing.”

It is the latter of these pieces which requires greater inspection, as it is one of a handful of songs on “X” that really pushes the Prong formula more toward a melodic appeal and adds a new dimension that the youthful virility of “Beg to Differ” didn’t offer.  That doesn’t make “Beg to Differ” a worse album in retrospect, but it does make “X” a more versatile and intelligent animal, as Victor succeeds in making the listener take stock of his words and not just his tone.  “With Dignity” is in much the same vein, using a heavy but marginally less dense guitar tone to accentuate the feeling that This Song Is About Something.  It’s a side of Prong we don’t get to see all that often, but is an excellent complement to the band’s tried-and-true formula of head-nodding rampages.

Speaking of, there’s plenty of those, too.  “Cut and Dry” slams out measures upon measures of drop-tuned sludge, the art of which was seemingly lost in time except to a privileged few.  There is a similarly punctuated affect for “Worth Pursuing” and the title cut, which are no less great a listening experience for the fact that we’ve discussed them less here.  What strikes is the vein of quasi-punk chanting vocal delivery and giant sing-along choruses that runs through much of the album and while not entirely unexpected is a welcome addition into the fold.

The only nit worth even thinking about picking here is that amidst the affirmations and encouragements and doubts of Victor’s messages, he occasionally crosses a wire, as “In Spite of Hindrances” tells us to ‘walk right through the door / with dignity,’ while “With Dignity” tells us to ‘walk away / with dignity.’  Just an observation.

“X – No Absolutes” is a lot of things; a groove metal record with giant punk choruses and a wonderfully uncomprised old-school feel.   This kind of metal has sadly all but left for dead, and yet here stands Prong, single-handedly injecting life into the method by the simple action of creating a kick-ass album with remarkable conviction.  For a real long time Prong has both talked the talk and walked the walk.  Nothing about that has changed.

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