Prong - Prove You Wrong
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
Prong is best known for two albums—Cleansing, which had the band's hit "Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck," and Beg to Differ, which yielded the longtime theme of MTV's Headbangers Ball (Riki Rachtman era). But the album in between, 1991's Prove You Wrong, never got its due. Perhaps that's inevitable for a record that came out on the same day as Nirvana's Nevermind.
Like its biggest influence, Killing Joke, Prong's sound has changed through time. A former soundman at CBGB's, singer/guitarist Tommy Victor assembled Prong in the mid-'80s with bassist Mike Kirkland and drummer Ted Parsons. The band debuted with the appropriately-titled Primitive Origins, and moved from hardcore punk to thrash metal leanings on Force Fed. By the time Epic picked up Prong for 1990's Beg to Differ, the band played full-on thrash. However, its sound differed from prevalent thrash styles like those of the Bay Area or Germany. While aggressive, Prong songs were cold, controlled, and abstract.
Prove You Wrong is a transition between Beg to Differ's thrash and Cleansing's industrial metal. Except for the double-time parts of "Brainwave," the pace is slower than before, and the riffs are simpler. A few industrial samples pepper the record, hinting at the immaculate loops on Cleansing. The arrangements are stripped down, though not to Cleansing's dancefloor-oriented levels.
The album's most salient feature is its production. The drums sound hollow and reverbed-out, capturing the tribal dub feel typical of Killing Joke and other '80s acts; the subsequent Whose Fist Is This Anyway remix EP explored this vibe more fully. Troy Gregory's bass (this was his only album with Prong) is high in the mix compared to the guitars, which are curiously un-heavy. They're almost twangy, with very '80s chorus and reverb. If Joy Division went metal, it might sound like this.
The songs are compact and groovy, even funky. “Prove You Wrong” begins with strummed, wiry, almost James Brown-esque chords. The song then drops into an earthy bass and drums groove; the bass is rubbery, the drums cold and cavernous. "Positively Blind" is likewise propulsive, deploying a gloriously incongruous cowbell. "Territorial Rites" welds Black Sabbath drones to rolling toms and post-punk open hi-hats. And for open post-punk homage, there's a surprisingly faithful take on The Stranglers' “Get a Grip on Yourself.” You could both bang your head and pogo to this album.
But it's no dance party. Sure, the guitars aren't that heavy, but they're strange and dissonant; "No Way to Deny It" has eerie, jangly chords with lineage from Geordie Walker's ringing tones in Killing Joke's “Eighties.” Nihilism runs throughout the lyrics: "Quest for solutions / You ain't gonna get one here / Why waste my breath upon the ears of a deaf man / Skeptic acceptance, caution fraudulent cause / Dependence on no one, best distrust and oppose" and "All these contradictions / Are bound to confuse / Which wrong will you choose?"
Perhaps the album's ambiguity fueled its obscurity. It's a metal record, but isn't mixed like one. It's long-haired music, but with short-haired sources. It's groovy as fuck, yet crushingly bleak. This album doesn't tell you what to do; maybe that's why people don't know what to do with it. Now out of print, this album is available on Amazon, shamefully cheap from those who should know better. If you thought Prong was "Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck," pick this up—it'll prove you wrong.