Is there a band more overlooked in the metal world than Prong? They produced the last great album of the third wave of thrash metal with 1990’s Beg to Differ; 1991’s Prove You Wrong is a prototype for what we now know as groove metal; and 1994’s Cleansing LP reinvented industrial metal and pioneered the riffs that nu metal bands would steal for the next ten years. Their influence in the 1990s is most impressive, but few people realise that the band produced four classics in a row in the last decade beginning with 2012’s Carved into Stone and ending with 2017’s Zero Days.
Of course, the one constant throughout the band’s existence is Tommy Victor. As vocalist and guitarist, he has steered the band from their crossover days of the late 1980s (see 1988’s Force Fed) through the major label years of 1990-1996, and into a couple of false starts (see 2003’s Scorpio Rising and 2007’s Power of the Damager) before finding his calling again in 2012 when he established the beginning of his long relationship with SPV in Germany (now part of Napalm Records). State of Emergency is the band’s first outing since 2019’s Age of Defiance EP, and in that time, Tommy has moved back to his native New York and become a stay-at-home dad in between the summer metal festivals and tours of North America and Europe with Black Label Society and Obituary. Whether Prong would call time on their recording career seemed a realistic possibility after the Covid lockdowns, but Tommy persevered through and agreed to write album number twelve. State of Emergency is his defiant comeback, and it’s a record that can take pride of place at the top of the band’s discography.
Prong have always been hard to categorise, but nobody can doubt their thrash metal credentials on opener, ‘The Descent’. Here, Tommy rips through his fretboard with rapid alt-picking rhythms as new drummer, Griffin McCarthy, matches him with a wonderful accent of rack-toms to shadow the note changes. The first groove metal riff arrives at 01:47 as if determined to correct the poor studio mix of 1991’s Prove You Wrong. You might even see this as a sequel to 1991’s classic ‘Unconditional’ single. Listen how the vocals seethe in a facetious tone beloved of Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman but with Tommy’s unmistakeable New York belligerence.
Why hardcore bands stopped imitating Prong’s brutal syncopated rhythms and focused their attention on Slayer and Obituary over the last decade is a mystery. The title track could be the finest example of this since 1994’s Cleansing. Nobody writes riffs as vicious as Tommy Victor. How does this man finesse the sharp incursions of palm-muted violence with such body-popping grooves? The precision of McCarthy’s double-kick triplets is just as impressive as the vitriolic lyrics. “Suppression of your thoughts, there’s no exception / Deviant their cause, in every instance,” roars Tommy like a member of Biohazard.
Can you envisage a better guitar hook than ‘Breaking Point’ for the remainder of 2023? Those new to Prong can start with this track and work backwards through the albums. The band’s unique sound finds its perfect calibration here – chunky pinch-harmonic riffs, vitriolic chant vocals, growling bass guitar lines, and crystal-clear drum snares that could awaken a dormant volcano. Forget about those anodyne drop-tuned djent riffs you hear in metalcore and deathcore – this is how you lay down a guitar groove. Not that Prong are predictable. Tommy’s nod to Obituary in the intro to ‘Light Turns Black’ is a welcome surprise before he lays into his guitar like a piece of high-grade military kit. ‘Who Told Me’ is like Cro-Mags on steroids under the supervision of Fear Factory’s rhythmic prowess. The bouncy thrust of ‘Compliant’ might even convince you that the boxing gym is your true calling.
Fans of the mid-90s incarnation of the band will be the ones most enamoured with this record, yet it should be easy for all to see a clear evolutionary path from the thrash metal brilliance of their last four albums. The Killing Joke influence on ‘Obeisance’ would be a pastiche in the hands of lesser artists, especially the sinister-smiling vocal delivery, yet Tommy’s trademark crunch of the guitar leaves his idiosyncrasies all over the original template. Likewise, the dissonant rock of ‘Disconnected’ searches for a tonality among the sliding octave chords and upbeat drums as if darkening the traditions of punk with a wave of Big Black noise distortion. This is why people seldom see Prong as a simple thrash band despite their heavy outlook and laser-precision guitar work. They emerged from hardcore, flirted with alternative rock, put their own spin on Anthrax, rewrote the manual for industrial metal, and never forgot their love of post-punk. You can hear all these innovations in this album.
Tommy Victor is the unsung hero of metal, and State of Emergency is his way of reminding us that his band have always been ahead of their time. This is the sequel to Cleansing that he wanted to make in 1996 yet ending the record with a cover of ‘Working Man’ by Rush tells us a lot about the mindset of Prong’s frontman in 2023. Is this to be the final studio recording or the start of another era for the band?
Release Date: 06/10/2023
Record Label: Steamhammer
Standout tracks: State of Emergency, Breaking Point, Light Turns Black
Suggested Further Listening: Detraktor – Full Body Stomp (2022), Killing Joke – Killing Joke (2003), Last Piss Before Death – LPBD (2022)