For most of the past 26 years, Tommy Victor has been churning out his always evolving brand of heavy metal in the New York-based band Prong. Sometimes the material was groove metal-based or hardcore, other times it was laced with industrial machinations. But one common thread in the band’s eight studio albums is that there’s always been plenty of room for good ole thrash metal.
For the making of the group’s eighth and latest full-length Carved Into Stone (which will hit stores April 24 via Long Branch Records/SPV), Victor (vocals/guitar) originally wrote 25 songs with bassist Tony Campos (ex-Static-X, Ministry, Soulfly, Fear Factory), guitarist Mike Doling (Soulfly), and drummer Alexei Rodriguez (Static-X, 3 Inches of Blood, Walls of Jericho). The group and producer Steve Evetts then decided on the best 11 of that bunch for this record.
“Eternal Heat” starts out the album with aggressive chord progressions that recall local Boston metal/hardcore punk band Tree’s classic “Question Abuse,” but then quickly accelerates into lightning-fast riffs and double kick drum fury. If Victor was trying to send a message to the thrash metal world that he’s still got it after all these years, this ferocious and intense track was a goddamn impressive way to accomplish that mission.
Early favorite “Revenge … Best Served Cold” has an instantly catchy chorus, spooky lyrics (“Are those really footsteps walking up your stairs?,” and dance-ready beats, along with heavy “drop C” guitar tuning that would fit perfectly on 1994 hit album Cleansing, right alongside its signature hit, “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck.” The title track can be described as stoner metal, as it gets Black Sabbath-ish at times, with its “Children of the Grave”-ish guitar rhythms, and ultra cool “Planet Caravan”-like psychedelic, gurgling vocals.
While the band’s previous record, 2007′s Power of the Damager was a welcomed return to form and had a lot of consistency in its mechanical heavy material, over time, it hasn’t grown on me and I now think a little less of it due to some unpleasant repetitiveness (“The Banishment”) and lack of standout ace material. Prong’s classic albums like the aforementioned inventive industrial thrash disc Cleansing and the straightforward metal on 1990′s Beg to Differ, on the other hand, did provide such goodness with tunes like “Who’s Fist Is This Anyway?,” “Broken Peace,” “Snap Your Fingers…,” and the latter album’s title track
But even those two albums had some (minor) flaws, whether it was a couple of unexciting tunes on Cleansing, and the seeming sameness of Beg to Differ’s songs, most of which—as killer as they are—sound like they were written in one key (E major/minor). Still, they were both superior to most other efforts, including 2003′s Scorpio Rising, even if it was Prong’s heaviest album ever. The meaty, chugging chords and riffs were there, but great songwriting just wasn’t.
The complete opposite is true on Prong’s latest, where you get one relentless metal song after the next, as deep as seventh track “List of Grievances,” another album highlight that both Kerry King (Slayer) and Dave Mustaine (Metallica, Megadeth) would give thumbs up to due to its brash hardcore thrash. Even when this disc slows down a bit in the latter third, Victor, Campos, and Rodriguez give their thrash metal some psychedelic flourishes, as well as some dark and dynamic twists, as on “Subtract,” “Path of Least Resistance,” and the aforementioned title track.
The only mildly weak track among them is the deep and (at first) musically dark “Path,” which hovers along at a midtempo pace before intensifying for the tune’s finale. The instructional “Reinvestigate” then closes out the album with a blistering guitar solo and some flashy Zakk Wylde-esque pinch harmonics for good measure.
While Cleansing may be Prong’s most well-known release, Carved Into Stone blows away any other album Tommy Victor has ever put out due to the combination of excellent songwriting, tight and captivating song arrangements, and stellar production.
Simply put, on Carved Into Stone, Prong has gone metal thrashing mad. And it has done so like never before, with riffs and rhythms that are as delightfully vicious as ever. Longtime admirers of the band should be pleased to know that the five years in between the group’s previous studio album (Power…) and this one is definitely more than worth the wait. And fans of thrash metal in general should salivate over Carved and may agree with this reviewer that it is without question a metal album of the year contender.