Tommy Victor is an unsung hero of Rock. The Prong frontman (and the band’s only constant) has been putting out great records under the Prong banner since 1989’s Force Fed. Between then and the band’s latest — thirteenth studio album State of Emergency (Steamhammer / SPV) — there’s been a brief flirtation with commercial success in the early-mid nineties, an extended hiatus before and after the band’s unfairly-maligned Scorpio Rising album from 2003, and a steady stream of quality material over recent years.
But enough about the band, let’s talk about me. When I exercise, I like to listen to Hard Rock and Metal. It’s been that way for years. There’ve been a few constants that always get my blood pumping, my adrenaline flowing and have me pushing that bit harder. White Zombie’s “Super Charger Heaven”, “Replica” by Fear Factory and Ministry’s “Warp City” have never let me down (Victor featured as co-songwriter and guitarist for the latter for a number of years before his relationship with Al Jourgensen soured). Of any band though, none has been a more reliable workout companion than Prong. “Revenge Served-Cold”, “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck”, “Rude Awakening”, these are songs that practically demand you punch a hole in the nearest wall (not advised) or run down the street, fists raised to the sky giving it your best Full Metal Jacket war face.
State of Emergency adds several new editions to this great tradition of heavy-riffing, gut-punching, stompers to get your blood pressure escalating. The thrash-channelling opener “The Descent” and the title track (surely to be hailed as a future Prong classic) are irresistible examples of Victor the riff-master and his canny ability to marry satisfyingly heavy rock / hardcore / metal attacks with hooks and catchy choruses.
But for anyone who hears the name Prong and thinks “oh yeah, they’re that nineties Groove Metal band that did Cleansing a million years ago”, don’t underestimate the songwriting craft of Tommy Victor. State of Emergency showcases plenty of the varied attacks that Prong can deliver convincingly, that don’t necessarily get the recognition they deserve.
“Light Turns Black” features a great, sliding verse and sees Victor channel his enduring love of classic NYC Hardcore like Cro-Mags. “Who Told Me” seems at first to be a typical head-banger before you notice some of the surprising guitar lines popping in (Victor is a professed fan of much post-Punk and New Wave bands, another aspect that stops Prong from ever quite being as easy to define as you sometimes suppose it could be). “Obeisance” has a great, anthemic Killing Joke quality that excellently welds a churning verse to a soaring chorus. The similarly anthemic “Compliant” meanwhile just casually pops up almost at the end, one of the best tracks of the whole album.
Steve Evetts (legendary hardcore/metal producer) and Griffin McCarthy deserve a mention for proving a suitably muscular backing of bass and drums. McCarthy in particular excels with some neat drum fills throughout the album. Don’t get too attached though, he’d already left and been replaced by the time the band went on their current tour to promote the album — Victor just seems to be one of those guys like Today is the Day’s Steve Austin who have to constantly grind through ever-changing line-ups.
Lyrically the album has a sense of impending apocalypse with Victor laying his gaze on the ills of mass media — though there’s still space for him to sing about returning to his old stomping ground of New York, after many years living in California on the charging “Back (NYC)”.
Yes, there is the temptation to overuse words like “stomping” when talking about Prong. Victor has his style, but to be fair, it’s a great style. The man is a riff-making machine and while he might not so often get praised for the vocal abilities, his gruff, half-shouting style is a perfect fit for this music. State of Emergency has its moments of fairly familiar Metal guitar tropes, but how many other heavy guitar bands also have the hooks, the melodies, the Harcore energy and ability to convincingly go from thrash to hardcore to the almost poppy Jane’s Addiction-evoking alt-rock of a track like “Disconnected”, without ever losing the core of what makes them great in the first place?
Not many, I’d say.
He may not get the acclaim that he deserves for continuing to make Prong a force to be reckoned with several decades into the band’s existence. But here Tommy Victor is, still doing his thing and making damn fine music. Closing out the record with an enjoyable rendition of Rush’s “Working Man” Victor sings “They call me the working man. I guess that’s what I am”. Yeah, I guess you are. And great work you’re doing too.
Buy the album here: https://www.visionmerch.com/prong/
9 / 10