I prefer my reviews to be serious and informative. ‘First Impressions’ allow for a more director’s commentary approach.Usually I will deliver insights into my history with similar music as well as into how my mind works and how both of these things change over time. You will have to either possess a fairly detailed understanding of Rock and Metal history and Subgenre conventions or have a second tab open at Wikipedia to fully follow every single point that I make, but don’t let that put you off…I’m not honestly expecting you to know every single riff or tone I’ll point out off by heart.
The album that this installment is about will be Cleansing by Prong.
I heard of Prong in the same list of albums that I first heard of Queensryche, and remember their name being advertised during my early years as a Metal fan (they’d reformed, after a several year long break-up). For a long time I knew absolutely nothing about them. One year I heard their singer Tommy Victor guesting on a Soulfly album.
They also had a new album out last year that got quite a lot of attention on the websites and facebook groups I visited, and the lead single for which was cool, but not cool enough to make me buy the album. The reason I watched the video was because I saw through Blabbermouth that Static-X’s Tony Campos was in the band and that was a little nostalgia for me.
I came across their Cleansing album a lot in my reading around that time, it came up a few times on podcasts, especially around the time when I compiled my “List of albums you need to have heard to understand metal properly” and I so listened to their single ‘Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck’ (their most famous single off that album and in general) both because it had been Justin Credible the wrestler’s entrance music, and also because I was hoping to find a missing link in the 90s-Metal concept that exists in my brain. That thing consists of Pantera, Biohazard a bit, Fear Factory a bit, the ‘sell-out’ Napalm Death albums, The Blind-Wiseblood period of C.O.C, Machine Head’s first two albums, Chaos AD and Roots by Sepultura, a few more of the non-thrash albums 80s thrash bands put out in the 90s, but which for some reason ignores the billions of Power, Black, Death, Doom, Sludge, Post, Progressive and Nu Metal albums of the 90s. The notion is entirely a construct of my own making and not one recognized by the world at large, its a product of my pre-internet imagination, that has no basis in reality.
Nevertheless, I imagine Prong to be a part of it. Also Vision Of Disorder maybe but that’s not relevant right now.
Another thing that happened is that HMV was reported to be going out of business recently, and there is a big sale on at the time of writing. I’ve been wondering up there for the last few days, and bought myself Porcupine Tree’s Stupid Dream, Anathema’s Falling Deeper and a boxset of three Prong albums, one of which is Cleansing.
Aside – The time that I came out with the Prong album, they had put a load of Children Of Bodom CDs on a 2 for £10 deal, which I also considered picking up for a first impressions, but after all the browsing, decided that 3 Prong albums for £9 was better value. However, I still might end up doing that as well, since I genuinely can’t seem to stop myself. I probably would’ve did both if I hadn’t have just payed my rent.
Aside 2 – I’d only ever seen a little thumbnail image of this album cover, either online or in magazines, but never studied it enough to understand what it was. I always assumed it was a clay sculpture of an extra-terrestrial communications tower, like something out of a Tool video. Turns out its an eye gouged out with a fork, on a piece of broken glass and a newspaper. Bit different. That’s more Biohazard territory than Tool.
Aside 3 – Before sticking cleansing on for the first time, the very last song I listened to was ‘Kernal Prt. 1’ by The Algorithm, and without exaggeration, I think it would be difficult to find two songs that contrast more and still count as metal than that and the first song on Prong’s album. Perhaps the campest Poision song with the most desolate Sunn O))) song. Anyway…
The first song on Prong’s album is called ‘Another World’s Divide.’ It starts off with a chunky stop/start riff and that kind of Vinnie Paul shuffling straight beat. (Like the one from ‘Walk’). When the vocals come in, Tommy really reminds me of Biohazard, (both Evan and Billy at points).
There is a very noisy and unmusical guitar solo after a while, that is surprisingly enjoyable despite containing almost no melody, which contrasts with the fuck-load of Gamma Ray I’ve been listening to all month. If you like guitar solos, Gamma Ray are what you need to be listening to.
….Anyway. The song treads the line between being heavy enough for my Pantera/Machine Head wishes, and the Korn-and-Deftone’s-first-albums level of heaviness that’s just short of what I want. Equally, it treads the line between being annoyingly 90s-slow (uncanny valley style, its not Drone by any means, but its not fast enough to sound powerful) and an acceptable tempo.
The next track, the Five Finger Death Punch reminiscently-titled ‘Who’s Fist Is This Anyway’ is faster. It toes the line between Groove Metal and Industrial. Its got a disco-y beat, but recorded live-soundingly (it is a word, I won countdown last year with it) as opposed to the Static-X style. The riff sounds a bit like Ministry, and Black Label Society too when it shifts later on. Sometimes the vocals really remind me of Johnny Santos from Spineshank. The problem is that the song is too repetitive. It works on the same logic as a Rammstein track would, but unfortunately it doesn’t have enough texture to be super-effective or a big enough lack of texture to be hypnotic pounding. For the first few moments you think its going to be brilliant, but then it just stays too samey. Still, it’s OK.
Next up is the classic ‘Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck’ which is good. Its got the most x-factor of anything I’ve heard thus far (admittedly only thee tracks). I can see why it was used in ECW. I’d actually loooove to hear Fiver Finger Death Punch cover it. I know loads of bands cover it, and the world doesn’t need any more covers of it, but I’ve not heard them so it wouldn’t bother me.
Track four, ‘Cut-Rate’ is very reminiscent of Anthrax, to the point of sounding like an Anthrax cover. I guess they must be influenced by Anthrax. Stands to reason. The vocals here are also Biohazard-reminiscent. Interestingly, all three bands (Prong being the third) are from New York City. Also, the speed of the song is satisfying. The album really needed it by that point, it ends on a real slow bit to balance things out, with some guitar noise over the background that Biohazard and Machine Head both could use, but which is one of the parts of their sound I don’t like, as opposed to all of the other bits I don’t like.
The single ‘Broken Peace’ which starts off for a few seconds sounding like Rage Against The Machine. Its annoyingly slow. It reminds me of Clutch’s Speedway Anthems in parts, the stuff like ‘Earthworm’ and ‘Milk Of Human Kindness.’ Also, it massively reminds me of ‘Cut Throat’ by Sepultura. Its kind of cool, but also kind of annoying. It also does get really good around the 3.15 mark though. It’s the kind of song I can tell that I’d have to be in the mood for. If I had just listened to something like ‘Tales From The Hardside’ or ‘My Own Summer’ it would seem cool, but if I’d heard something with a satisfying production like Hatebreed’s ‘Spitting Venom’ it would sound really limp.
‘One Outnumbered’ has a horrible intro and post-chorus full of the bits that I hate from the 90s, but its main riff is awesome. I’m a sucker for things like Pinch Harmonics, Pick Squeals, Pick Scrapes or Dive Bombs you see. Some people get snobby about it, but I love it when people throw in a bit. Its what made me try Black Label Society for the last First Impressions entry after all.
When that cool riff isn’t going though, the song sounds like it can’t be bothered. That’s the spirit of the bad-90s right there, songs that sound like they can’t be bothered.
‘Out Of This Misery’ starts off like it may be more of the same, but some fun tribal floor tom rumbling comes in, then the prechorus builds up a lot of potential like the song is going to explode. Only, its not the pre-chorus, it’s the chorus, and the song is ruined. The guitar solo reminds me of Kurt Cobain. I guess that’s the band’s Hardcore side coming through. (If you follow that logic)(In a ‘we are more Black Flag than Black Sabbath’ kind of way)(You know. The evolution of music. One band inspires another, the similarty between the two gets filtered down a line like chinese whispers until it doesn’t actually sound the same but you can tell where it came from if you hear a few links in the chain)(fuck off, it does make sense)(I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude, come back).
‘No Question’ has a very Zack Wylde sounding riff, but on an awkward twisty beat. The chorus is brilliant though, it has these atmospheric melodic quiet vocals that remind me of Deftones. It makes the Zack riff sound heavier when it comes back. At about 2.59 it gets very good indeed. I think its my favourite song on the album so far. If all of it was played as aggressively as the very last riff, it would have been massive.
‘Not Of This Earth’ comes next, which is not enjoyable by me. I dunno how to, um, just listen to it. It somehow reminds me of the only bits of Faith No More I don’t like, as well as the bits of Nirvana I don’t like and the reasons that The Melvins, Flipper and Black Flag don’t sit well in my ears yet. I can safely say I’ll not be choosing to listen to this again. I can see why people may like it but, nope, not for me.
Aside 4 – remember the asides? …? Oh, no reason. Just breaking up the describe-each-track formula.
‘Home Rule’ is a lot more to my tastes. The drum shuffling reminds me of ‘Ballroom Blitz’ by Sweet and ‘I Pledge Allegiance To The State Of Rock N Roll’ by Kiss, but its under a really odd guitar part, that reminds me a bit of a Sick Of It All song I heard a few times on TV. The one that goes ‘Some day, a little rain is gonna come.’ That one. It had a dragon in the video. Part of the video was a cartoon of people on the subway.
The penultimate track ‘Sublime’ is also pretty much in that ‘things I don’t like by Nirvana’ mould. I don’t know how to describe it properly, but it was the evolution of the slow bits of the hardcore bands who went experimental, but its sloppy, jagged angular music that sounds like a fat lazy guitar is whinging about a trivial subject. It would eventually evolve yet further and go into that whole At The Drive In direction. You know the thing I’m on about? (Musical evolution. The thing I mentioned earli…ok, just checking)
The album ends with a track called ‘Test.’ ‘Test’ sounds like how I wanted this band to sound like, its actually a part of that mythical 90s-Metal sphere from my imagination. Its about 20% shy of being the right amount of heavy for my tastes, and needs to be about 1.5 times as fast, but in general, it’s a good song.
So. How do I feel about this album on first impression? Umm, I’m not sure. There are good parts there, but I think its not for me. It had more properties which I dislike, than properties I like. There are other bands who mix Hardcore and Metal, and some mix bits of each I like and some mix bits I don’t like. Prong, as I have covered, seem to play a lot of the bits I don’t like.
It also didn’t satisfy me on a few levels. I wish the vocals were more aggressive in general. Everything seemed like it was held back a tiny bit too much, almost as if the studio was beside something else like a Maternity Hospital and the band weren’t allowed to sing too loudly. It’s like a down-tuned guitar with a lot of distortion on it being really lightly tapped on the strings. Sure, its got the same sort of timbre as heavy-as-fuck guitar, but all the power is missing. The vocals lack ‘umph.’ To paraphrase some guy, who may or may not exist, there’s no ka-boom, ka-boom.
The album has a lot of guitar solos, which are usually one of my favourite parts of any album, but after the first few songs here, they are always really brief and unmusical. They always come when the song drags on a bit too long and just save me from thinking the song was too dull and repetitive, but never actually make a song better or be noteworthy in and of themselves. Its not like a Biohazard guitar solo that makes a song better, its more like a defense against an imaginary threat than an actual functional component of the song.
Additionally, like a lot of Grunge and early Nu Metal, the songs often rely too heavily on one riff and let the rest of the song go to waste, its supposed to be dynamic but it doesn’t come across that way.
The way that this album would’ve become good, would’ve been for the songs I’ve mentioned as being annoying to have been replaced by ‘Dance Of The Dead,’ ‘Vote With A Bullet’ and ‘Damned For All Time’ off of Corrosion of Conformity’s one-off album Blind. The mix of the best tracks on it and the best tracks on this would’ve made up one great 90s Metal album. Blind gets a bit repetitive, this is varied but lacks major x-factor. The two combined would be good. Also, chuck in that Earth Crisis song with Rob Flynn doing guest vocals, fuck it, why not? I might actually make a playlist…
Overall; It didn’t create a brilliant first impression. I can imagine that the more I listen to it the more I’ll like it, but that there are a few tracks I’ll never be able to like. I’d be happy to listen to about the first five and the last one track(s) again. It does have enough stuff I like so that I don’t think it was a colossal waste of time, but it just didn’t jump up and grab me. I haven’t found my new favourite album or anything. Its no Operation Mindcrime.
[If you follow this blog, and want to read a ‘first impressions’ about something, feel free to give me suggestions and a copy of the accompanying albums]