Friday, February 23, 2024

Prong - State of Emergency (2023)

There seems to have been a reinvigorated interest in Prong lately, with what might be their most hyped album in ages, a swank tour with the greatest band on Earth (and beyond) Voivod, which is unfortunately not coming anywhere near my neck of the woods (god damnit). State of Emergency itself continues along that path of polished thrash that Tommy Victor has been on since the surprising Carved Into Stone back in 2012, which I'm sure is a relief for some, but obviously lacks most of the industrial elements that the band was performing quite well on Rude Awakening or Cleansing, as well as the really interesting and weird, organically mechanical rhythms the band was feeding us when they blew up on Beg to Differ or Prove You Wrong. Naturally, this also isn't a foray back into the raunchy sewer thrash of the magnificent Force Fed.

No, State of Emergency is in reality a pretty standard array of groove/thrash rhythms given personality through Tommy Victor's vocals and the occasional twist of melodic chord patterns reminiscent of Rude Awakening or Carved in Stone which help to balance out the taut chugging force. It's nearly identical to the last four original studio albums, and that's not a bad thing, since he's really settled into this style alongside bassist Jason Christopher who has now been a part of the proceedings for nearly a decade. He has a simple style, which supports the structure of Victor's rhythm guitars with a good tone, making for an appreciable impact; but it doesn't venture off on its own quite enough, and I do think the simpler riffing patterns would certain allow for that. On the other hand, the new drummer, Griffin McCarthy does an awesome job, slapping out a lot of fills and grooves to help amplify the material without attempting to extremify it too much, which just wouldn't work on such basic grooves. As for Victor, he's always had that relatable, gruff tough guy timbre and sounds awesome here, barking off with a few effects here or there to make it feel sleek and modern.

I do think the album gets better as it goes along, really picking up with tracks like "Light Turns Black" or "Who Told Me" which go for broke a little more and grow catchier as a result. The opener track "The Descent" has propulsive riffing energy, and makes sense in that position, but it feels like a good 12-14 minutes pass before it's grabbing me, other than the squeals in "Breaking Point" or that melodic floe of chords in "Non-Existence". But pretty much the entire second half of State of Emergency is flooded with the more emotional style of chorus, and the riffing really supports that. Even the cover of Rush's "Working Man" really thrives in context, and unlike a lot of covers it actually functions alongside the band's original material. I also noticed that the few little spurts of effects or industrial influences that do sneak through here almost always stir my interest, and wouldn't mind if they brought more of that back into the songwriting for the future.

Ultimately, I found this the best Prong album since Carved in Stone, though I don't think it exactly laps their more recent output like Zero Days or X - No Absolutes. Though some of the riffing choices are short on nuance or innovation, the sum package is largely consistent after a predictable start, and the band still retains its distinct feel from the rest of its genre. So while it's not at all any sort of comeback album, the hype is deserved, this has always been a worthy East Coast thrash band throughout most of its incarnations and stylistic shifts, with only 1-2 sub-par studio offerings in the earlier 2000s, long since compensated for with much stronger determination, tapping into the core, urban fundamentals while streamlining them for an audience of today.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

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