Power of the Damager
he cultural memory of Prong is spotty. For some, the name means thrash classic Beg to Differ, whose "For Dear Life" was MTV's “Headbangers Ball” theme. For others, "Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck" is "that one song." Before and after these highlights lie endless frustration and under-appreciation. The grind started early on for singer/guitarist Tommy Victor. For years, he toiled as the sound man for New York's CBGB's. In 1986, he formed Prong with CBGB's Mike Kirkland and ex-Swans drummer Ted Parsons. After demos of raging hardcore punk, the band shifted towards cold, technical thrash metal. Beg to Differ marked Prong's thrash zenith; Prove You Wrong transitioned to a more industrial sound. Cleansing had "that one song," but success was fleeting. After 1996's Rude Awakening, Epic dropped the band, and Prong split up. Parsons joined Godflesh and later Jesu, while Victor paid his bills as sideman for Danzig and Ministry. He reformed Prong with a new lineup for 2003's Scorpio Rising, but label difficulties hindered its reach. Years of label-lessness followed. Now Al Jourgensen is shuttering Ministry to focus on his 13th Planet imprint; ergo, this record.
All this history may be dry, but it's essential. Victor is easily one of metal's most creative guitarists ever. Even in his hardcore punk years, Victor unleashed clouds of dissonance that rivaled early Sonic Youth. As Prong's attack tightened, Victor became an astonishingly accomplished guitarist, firing off dizzyingly cutting lines while singing on top. When the band shifted to industrial sounds, Victor's playing simplified and opened up. Cleansing was a masterpiece of economy and precision; nu-metal later coarsely cribbed its downtuned, stop-start riffs while failing to grasp its finer aspects—abstract, ringing chords in counterpoint with sharp dissonance. In essence, Victor recast post-punk in a metallic setting. No other metal guitarist possesses such potent groove, bite, and minimalism.
After over 20 years, Victor still has an endless supply of riffs. In three and a half minutes, "Looking for Them" seamlessly sews together more strong riffs than most bands have on entire albums. Riffs slink through subtle variations, disappearing and re-appearing with different accents, staccato instead of legato, and so on. Despite Victor's idiosyncrasies, he has a slight mynah bird streak. On Scorpio Rising, his vocals sometimes adopted the howl of his then-employer, Danzig. Here, his riffs are more driving than before, perhaps as a result of playing in the more straightforward Ministry. The vocals on "Changing Ending Troubling Times" even have a Ministry-esque echo effect. However, the overall sound, rife with rich voicings and pinch harmonics, is unmistakably Prong. With the benefit of clean, modern production, Victor surveys the many riffing styles he's employed/pioneered over the years. "No Justice" revisits stop-start rhythms, while "Third Option" is a tour de force of furious thrash riffing, its malevolent breakdown descending with Wagnerian violence. Even the melodic "Worst of It" breaks down to, um, neck-snapping machine-gun bursts. Prong hasn't sounded this pissed off in years.
Typically for Prong, the lyrics are abstract, touching on vague themes of paranoia and betrayal. However, "The Banishment" is startlingly autobiographical: "Banished from this world, and from its toil / I can only watch, grieve, and pity." Victor is probably referring to the time after Epic dropped Prong, when he moved from New York to Los Angeles, living in poverty and disappointment ("Smashed by surprise falls / Slashed by irrelevant scolds"). In the verses, nagging high end screws in dissonance, bottoming out to bouncy, splashy open hi-hats. Drummer Aaron Rossi throws in boot-to-the-ass accents and slippery cymbals all over the place. Today's dance punkers sound like kindergartners in comparison. At CBGB's, Victor did sound for their heroes. It's high time he be recognized as one himself.