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Prong Songs

Chris Cuffano

Three Prongs Make a Left: Paul Raven (right), Tommy Victor (center) and Ted Parsons of Prong stand up for the left wing.

Society gets a very 'Rude Awakening' on Prong's new album

By Nicky Baxter

IT'S BEEN ABOUT six years since the U.S.S.R. hacked itself into a series of contentious, strife-ridden republics. Now, it appears as if Communism might be on its way back. Talk about a rude awakening. Judging by the 13 grainy snapshots of Russian hot spots festooning the innersleeves of Rude Awakening (Sony), Prong's latest album, the metal/industrialist outfit has been following the course of recent history.

Hailing from New York's mean streets, the three musicians presumably know a little about the kind of mayhem, murder, turf wars and other intrigue currently plaguing Russia and its break-away republics. Disappointingly, the album's 13 "Chapters" pack more bark than bite; the less said about the lyrics, the better. The grooves, however, proof that Prong can swing--like a meat cleaver. Best of all, Tommy Victor, Ted Parsons and Paul Raven continue to make great strides as dance-land heavies.

Rude Awakening's opening salvo, "Controller," starts off with some funky drumming even James Brown could get with--only JB ain't even tryin' to hear the serrating, Gang of Four-like guitar riff knifing through this sonic maelstrom. "Unfortunately" is equally bleak, both musically and thematically.

It is, perhaps, not coincidental that the song's rhythmic core is reminiscent of Gang of Four's proto-metal/punk/industrial grooves--"We Live as We Dream, Alone" in particular. In terms of ideological posture, however, Prong only pricks the surface of matters social. Where the Gang of Four's Marxist-humanist theory actually bears close scrutiny (in the case of "Dream," for instance, the notion that individual isolation is a byproduct of monopoly capitalism and can be actively engaged, and challenged, as such), the subject of "Unfortunately" is just a poor sap paralyzed by the social forces surrounding him/her: "It's all a mystery to me."

Yet even the seeming chaos wracking the various ex-Soviet states has its foundation in material, explainable circumstances. But what Prong lacks in social analysis, it attempts to make up for in aggressively entertaining beats.

PRONG'S FASCINATION with metal's rhythmically inclined side is hardly surprising. The rhythm is pounded out in equal aggro-portions by bassist Raven's steady-going melodic playing and drummer Parsons' funky bludgeoning. Victor slices through the resulting din with his sawed-off-shotgun guitar and clenched-jaw vocals.

In the early days, Parsons was a meat-and-potatoes man, tattooing his kit with blue-collar efficiency and predictability. As Prong's songs evolved, the drummer began incorporating syncopation techniques based loosely on black dance music--disco, really--as reconstructed by U.K. acts such as Gang of Four, Killing Joke and Bad Brains.

Which brings the discussion round to Raven, who, having completed a tour of duty with Killing Joke, allied himself with Prong three years ago. Killing Joke was fusing the fury-driven angst of punk and funk-metal-noise while industrial's poster boy Trent Reznor was still in nappies. His recruitment undoubtedly hastened Prong's already burgeoning interest in adding some funk to heavy metal.

Prong was not always so willing to experiment. Primitive Origins, their 1987 debut, was all intensity--and no diversity. Force Fed, released the next year, dittoed that monochromatic obsession. By the time of Prove You Wrong (1991), the Killing Joke effect had already kicked in. Cleansing (1994) proved to be a commercial breakthrough, selling in excess of 250,000 units. Enhancing the album's appeal immensely was programmer/beatmaster John Bechdal. On Rude Awakening, Nine Inch Nails keyboardist and drummer Charlie Clouser fiddles with the studio console, contributing loops and conceptualizations.

Although the new album has much to recommend it, Prong seems to be pinning its hopes on the title track, a militant beat manifesto underscored by guitar work that alternates between baleful staccato outbrusts and wonderfully mutant Wes Montgomery licks. Victor's treated vocals, meanwhile, are straight Reznor, telescoping his emotions into a tiny knot of furious disquietude.

A 12-inch remix by the Orb is due any day now, and there's talk of future remixes hooked up by the Young Gods and Reznor himself. And then there's the Orb/White Zombie directed vid-single. Taken as a whole, the "Rude Awakening" musical propaganda blitz would do the old Soviets (and dear old Sam) proud. Meanwhile, down in clubland, the masses are busy preparing themselves for a three-Prong invasion.

Prong, with God Lives Underwater, plays Wednesday (June 12) at 9pm at the Edge, 260 California St., Palo Alto. Tickets are $7 adv. (415/324-EDGE)

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From the June 6-12, 1996 issue of Metro

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