After Prong‘s original incarnation crashed and burned in the mid-’90s, bandleader Tommy Victor has been gradually working his way back into the metal world’s good graces. 2003’s “comeback” album Scorpio Rising may have been seriously misguided, but the records that followed made great strides towards restoring Prong‘s dignity. 2012’s Carved Into Stone particularly recaptured a lot of the elements that made the band’s breakout album, 1994’s Cleansing, a classic. Perhaps sensing that he’s on the right track, Victor wasted little time in releasing a follow-up, entitled Ruining Lives.
At first glance, Ruining Lives looks extremely promising for longtime Prong fans. For one thing, that awesome Pushead-esque album cover is a total throwback to the Beg To Differ/Prove You Wrong era. And yes, the album does have a few tracks that recall the old days, such as “The Barriers” and “The Book Of Change.” Victor is undoubtedly aware that Prong‘s early material is back in fashion among retro-minded metalheads, and at least in small doses, he is happy to oblige them.
However, those tracks are merely a distraction from the bigger picture, which is more or less the same as on Carved Into Stone: songs that blatantly reference the Cleansing-era hits, with slicker production and greater emphasis on vocal hooks. A lot of these songs are built from the same blueprints as “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck” and/or “Whose Fist Is This Anyway,” with shit-kicker riffs over metronomic, mechanical beats. Y’know, the kind of stuff you’d listen to while getting a tribal tattoo or watching pro wrestling.
This time around, a lot of the songs are carried by Victor’s singing more than his guitar work, which is an odd move for a guy who is A) nearly godlike at writing riffs, and B) a fucking terrible singer. Yet there he is, going for the big catchy chorus on tracks like “Turnover” and “Remove, Separate Self.” To his credit, his vocals are greatly improved, partially because they’re smothered in the kind of studio “help” usually reserved for crap like All That Remains. This approach tends to weaken the heavier material, unfortunately. The title track, for instance, would be utterly fucking crushing if it wasn’t burdened with harmony vocals and an overly-sanitized mix.
Meanwhile, there’s a pronounced lack of the stylized guitar work that one expects from this band. Even diehard fans could easily mistake “Chamber Of Thought” or “Come To Realize” as the work of some other band. The pre-packaged drum sounds and metalcore-era production tricks are also worthy of derision. At times, it feels like these guys are just trying to get a track onto a video game or movie soundtrack. I can’t fault Victor and co. for trying to finally make a buck, but the commercial-grade shenanigans are the very opposite of the Prong aesthetic.
The rhythm section continues to be a serious shortcoming for modern-era Prong. I have no clue who played drums or bass on Ruining Lives — the press kit contains five photos of Victor standing alone — but they lack the musicianship that these songs cry out for. There’s no real bass lines to speak of, and the drumming skews heavily towards generic metal beats, completely ignoring the post-punk and industrial influences that made the band unique. And without those elements, there’s precious little that separates Prong from horrible dogshit like Static-X. I wonder if Victor still has Ted Parsons’ phone number.
My main issue is that, for all its attempts at being catchy, Ruining Lives is pretty unmemorable. Tommy Victor is a monster guitarist responsible for some of modern metal’s catchiest riffs, and I’m a little surprised that he didn’t deliver in that capacity here. Even the last two records had riffs that could easily make Prong‘s highlight reel (like this, this, and this), so there’s still some gas left in the tank. But Ruining gets by on merely sounding kinda like a Prong record, without being a necessary addition to the catalog. If you enjoyed Carved Into Stone, then consider Ruining Lives a somewhat inferior sequel.