Wednesday 11 October 2023

Prong - State of Emergency (2023)

Country: USA
Style: Groove/Thrash Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 6 Oct 2023
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Well, here's an interesting release. I found Prong early, when they played a raw form of crossover, that was often straightforward punk as it was thrash metal, but they had changed considerably by the time I could introduce my son to their music. He's a fan, but not of everything they've done, as there's such a variety there. I don't believe I've heard their previous album, Zero Days, from 2017, but it seems to have trawled in elements from across their career. This does likewise, though it has a real vicious streak as it kicks off that sadly fades away relatively quickly.

The vicious track is The Descent and it initially reminds heavily of Slayer in old school thrash mode, but finds more of a groove metal vibe as it grows. Moving from Slayer into Pantera ought to make a lot of fans happy but they're not done with just those influences. There's some of that old school hardcore here too and the following title track gets bouncy with industrial flavour that only builds with the song. Main man Tommy Victor, who still handles both vocals and guitars, almost becomes an MC on this one.

He does more of that as the album runs on, generally becoming less thrash and more groove with the industrial texture never far away. That holds mostly true, though Back (NYC) ten tracks in is an aggressive hardcore song that goes against the flow in a welcome fashion. Oh, and there's also a song called Disconnected that might just be there to mess with us, given that feels like a post-punk pop song by someone else that's given much heavier treatment here, as if it used to be a Depeche Mode song and Prong wanted to kick it into high gear.

As far as I can tell, Disconnected isn't a cover, but there is one of those here to wrap up the album and it's just as unexpected, because it's Rush's Working Man. It's a really good cover, feeling close to the original but run through a notably heavy filter for a sort of Sabbath does Rush approach. It's especially strong in its instrumental midsection, which, for all the aggression of The Descent and Back (NYC), is the most joyous part of this album for me.

The other element here that I should call out is what feels almost like a party atmosphere, albeit here and there rather than continual. One minute, they're partying on a song like Non-Existence, like Victor wants to jam with Anthrax on a metal take on a pop punk song; the next they're acutely serious, playing up a politically aware angle that's purer hardcore on a song like Who Told Me. The style shifts but crucially so does the attitude. On the livelier songs, they're chill and enjoying life. On the serious ones, they're back to being pissed at whatever the song is about. It can seem a bit odd that they can be so comfortable being both at once.

It feels to me like the more serious songs are going to be more popular with Prong's punk fans and likely their industrial fans too, as they're all about drive and message, though they're still pretty accessible to a thrash audience. However, those thrash fans may well prefer the livelier songs that play more with riffs and melodies. Let's see if those different fanbases receive it differently or if, by this point, Prong fans are just on board with all these musical elements because they've stayed with the band as they've travelled through all of them.

Certainly, as a thrash fan, I'm less impressed with songs like Obeisance, which work as bludgeoning rhythm, and more enthused with the blistering speed shown in the first half of The Descent or the musicality in the middle of Working Man. Then again, sometimes songs do shift focus, Compliant a prime example, and that can affect our reception greatly. Initially, it's very much shouty hardcore, a hard message over jagged punctuating rhythms that I'm not particularly fond of, but it gradually turns into a metal song with real flow that I can't fail to see as an album highlight every time.

And so this is a mixed bag for me. It's all done well, but I wanted more of how it started and how it ended up without as much of what came in between. It doesn't get old though, as fresh on a third time through as a first, so it's definitely strong material. If you can enjoy the shifts in genre, this is going to be a welcome new album from Prong, especially as it's their first in six years. Now, I need to find out how my son will receive it.

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