Double Play: Prong & Nate Hall

Two reviews for the price of none!

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

 

Prong

Carved Into Stone

Entertainment One Music

 

It’s been five years since the last batch of new tunes from iconic hardcore/thrash band Prong and the road for the band has been a winding one. In 1988, when Prong dropped Force Fed and the world was forced to take notice. In 1990 they released Beg To Differ and then Prove You Wrong in 1991. To many these are the Holy Trinity of Prong albums, though some argue that 1994’s The Cleansing was also one of their best. Since then releases have been spotty and met with marginal to decent response. The band’s last album, 2007’s Power Of The Damager, was not their best effort.

2012 brings a new entry to the Prong legacy with Carved Into Stone.. So, how good is the album? Well, it’s good, but it’s not as good as you want it to be. All of us who love Prong have been waiting for “that” record, the one that rips our faces off the way the first three did. Carved Into Stone isn’t that album, but that’s not to say it isn’t good. Prong mastermind Tommy Victor clearly took a look at all the genres Prong has been associated with—hardcore, thrash, industrial—and tried to process them into this record. Sometimes it works really well and sometimes it falls flat.

The opening track was the one that excited me the most. “Eternal Heat” is an old thrash/hardcore throwback. The song vies between straight hardcore and epic thrash metal.  Speed is the big element here. The main riff is thrashing while the secondary movement uses that fast/groovy hardcore vibe. By the end of “Eternal Heat” I was all in.

“Keep On Living In Pain” drops some serious Beg To Differ/Prove You Wrong riffage. Victor has a knack with taking groove heavy riffs making them inhuman. Imagine all the Terminators got together and formed a metal band. The guitars are dirty but clear, the riff heavy but not boring. I defy anybody to listen to “Keep On Living In Pain” without banging their heads off their necks.  “Ammunition” keeps the groove going but adds a descending chorus that gives the song some really cool dynamics. Just as the power of the main riff gets overbearing, the chorus drops the action and resets your brain for more groove.

“Revenge Served Cold” is where things get hinky. I know Tommy Victor was trying to involve all aspects of Prong’s existence but I could have done without the rump shaking dance era. “Revenge Served Cold” has no idea what it wants to be. It’s a little bit thrash and a little bit White Zombie dance metal. The song sounds goofy and drops the floor out of the intensity of the first three tunes.  “State Of Rebellion” is filler, a song that sounds like a batch of different parts thrown together for no reason. Dance here, groove here, head bang here. By the end I felt more like I was in a Wii game then listening to a Prong record.

“Put Myself To Sleep” is better. It’s more of the alt-metal years but it works. The song has that big guitar but not fully metal sound of bands like Tad or Soundgarden. The song uses more open strumming, which allows for a radio friendly pop feel. When the guitar crunch returns it levels things out and injects just enough thrash into “Put Myself To Sleep” to keep it interesting. “List Of Grievances” brings Prong back to fast and awesome.  

The hardest splat on Carved Into Stone is the title track. Holy Jesus catching a catfish is this song boring. I can only suppose Tommy Victor was channeling his love of Industrial music because “Carved Into Stone” is slow and heavy and who cares. The song never gets interesting. The chorus is cheesy and the music sounds like tossed out riffs from Victor’s time with Danzig. Absolutely nothing happens here and as the longest song on the album, it kills the momentum.

“Subtract” helps regain the power of the album. It’s a straight thrash number with a killer riff. I wish “Subtract” had been a bit earlier in the sequence, it would’ve made all the difference. From there, Carved Into Stone stumbles to its close. At times the album stands upright, at others it crumples entirely. 

The biggest issue I have with the album is consistency. When Carved Into Stone is on, it’s fully on, kicking ass the way we know Prong can. Tommy Victor still has a great ear for a riff and when his songwriting fluids are running on high he’s unstoppable. When those fluids run dry, the results are disastrous. There are too many ups and downs here. The good songs are broken up too much by the bad ones to really get a solid footing.

I’m also one who thinks all recent Prong albums  suffer from a lack of Ted Parsons drumming. Since his departure after Rude Awakening, the band just hasn’t been the same. Parsons’ robotic drumming and precision fit perfectly with Victor’s riffs.  It isn’t a rhythm section thing per say.  Prong has had any number of bassist from original member Mike Kirkland to Killing Joke legend Raven. This is more about how Ted Parsons drum work enhanced what Victor does. I heard songs on this album that I knew would be better if Ted Parsons was behind the kit. It’s like Helmet without John Stainer or Slayer without Dave Lombardo. Sure the albums might be okay, but the magic just isn’t there.

Carved Into Stonereminds me of a movie that’s more a collection of scenes than a cohesive story. This record has killer bits but overall it’s disjointed and never really gels. For those with a blind love of Prong you’ll dig this record much more than their last two albums. Those who tuned out after The Cleansing, probably won’t find much reason to return. 

 


 

Nate Hall

A Great River

Neurot Recordings

You’ve probably never heard of Nate Hall.

You need to correct that problem immediately.

Nate Hall is the vocalist for US Christmas, a woefully underrated band that continues has put out some really challenging music. A Great River is Hall’s solo effort and it’s an album of such raw emotion and pure beauty I almost don’t want to share it. This is a world that has taken country from The Carter Family to Toby Keith and slaughtered the singer/songwriter genre with acts that write theme music for people whose emotional core runs no deeper than a very special episode of Grey’s Anatomy. This world might not deserve Nate Hall or a record as ridiculous as A Great River

A Great Riveropens with “The Earth In One Cell”. Nate Hall’s voice is all about reaching into your soul and tearing through the memories. He’s one of those artists that is all heart. His music is pure emotion translated through guitars and haunting, melancholy vocals. A repetitive chord progression overshadowed by the occasional searing guitar lick is all that we get from “The Earth In One Cell”. It’s a bare bed waiting for Hall’s voice to lay in it. There’s a drawl to his voice, something hidden just beneath the surface that gives the man a world weary feel.

Connecting with people is hard. Connecting with them when you’re penchant is to create swirling, psychedelic soundscapes that you sing over with cryptic lyrics is damn near impossible. The fact that Hall’s songs are moving, that they stir something in your heart that allows you to lay your own life experience over what he’s doing is a sign that genius is at work here.

“Dark Star” is a prime example of that. At six minutes very little changes in the music except how Hall’s voice echoes through it and how the crescendos build off his vocals. You rise and fall with the dynamics here. The guitar work is complex but never pretentious or forced. Hall’s ability to mix his stunning vocals with odd yet accessible guitar work reminds me a lot of Nick Drake.

This brings us to “Kathleen”. It takes a huge set of balls to cover a Townes Van Zandt song. It takes an industrial set of balls to put your own interpretation on it. I was nearly insulted that Hall was going to attempt to cover a Van Zandt tune until I heard it. Though Hall layers the psychedelic twirly whirly into the tune, he does it without insulting the source material. The reverb on his voice and the lonely guitars keep the original idea of Van Zandt’s “Kathleen” in tact and allows Hall to build off of it. There are very few people that can step to Townes Van Zandt. Hall proves he’s worthy.

“Night Theme” is a gorgeous instrumental number and the follow up “Chains” is the most user friendly.  With “Chains” Hall backs off the fuzz and swirls and focuses on straight acoustics. For me the tune has Woody Guthrie or Phil Ochs vibe. If there was ever a tune Bob Dylan wishes he wrote, it’s “Chains”.

Easily my favorite track on the album is “When The Stars Begin To Fall”. This sounds like an old hymn sung by prisoners as they headed for a day of hard labor. To make the song even more ridiculous, there’s a train whistle in the distance that gets louder as the tune progresses. Really? Fuck you Nate Hall. I don’t need somebody making me teary eyed in less than two minutes with their music. I have enough problems. The song is majestic, gorgeous and if you have a heart, “When Stars Begin To Fall” will stop it.

For those in love with US Christmas’s psych doom blues loudness, this album might shake you. Some of their recent work has shown that Hall has a poetic and easier side, but Eat The Low Dogs and A Great River are very different beasts. If you can open your mind to what Nate Hall has done with this solo project, you’ll experience something beautiful and elegant. I’m so glad Hall decided to bestow this collection of songs on the world, though I’m still not sure we deserve them.