Almost every band has that album: you know, the critically and/or commercially reviled dud in an otherwise passable-to-radical back catalog. Well, every Wednesday morning—in this case, Thursday, and former invisible orange-man Cosmo Lee would like to offer you a personal apology for the delay—a Decibel staffer or special guest will take to the Deciblog to bitch and moan at length as to why everybody’s full of shit and said dud is, in fact, The Shit. First of all, I disagree with the letter of this column. You should never have to justify your taste to anyone else (unless you're a priest, and your taste is teenage boys). No one should care if you're into fat women or Thai food or green cars or vintage clothes. "Taste" is exactly that—something personal and subjective. Shitting on others' tastes is miserable and insecure. If you think your tastes are so great, remember that much of the world probably disagrees. You can play that game, or you can get on with life. (Column title largely facetious, as evidenced by use of "shitty"-XO Ed.)
That said, I agree with the spirit of this column: re-examining underrated records. Prong's 2003 album, Scorpio Rising, is one such record. On its face, it has little going for it. Its cover is ugly, its production is undercooked, and it's Prong after Cleansing, which means that people either (a) have never heard it, or (b) think it's cheesy. When discussing Prong with others, I typically hear this: "I haven't heard Prong since Cleansing, and now they sound like nü-metal!" That's sort of true. But that's because Prong helped invent things that nü-metal appropriated: drop-tuned riffs, industrial touches, an emphasis on groove. (For similar reasons, Helmet also get falsely tarred with the nü-metal brush.) When Prong do those things, it's just being Prong. If you listen past "OMG groove riff = nü-metal," you'll hear that there's more going on than "Jumpdafuckup." Tommy Victor is too weird a guitarist for that. He throws in odd time signatures, bits of dissonance, and strange accents and syncopations.
For example, the first verse of "Letter to a 'Friend'" is 16 bars long. The guitar comes in out of nowhere in bar six (!), dives back out, goes into percussive scratching, sits on a held chord, then bites off another fragment of riffing. It never does that sequence again. In fact, every verse has a different set of riffs. That's strange and cool and very Prong. Victor's done this stuff since day one, and if you can't hear it because you're angry that your head's nodding, that's your loss.
So, this is a Prong record, and you can draw lines from it back to the Prong records it's OK to like. It has technical thrash ("Beg to Differ"), post-punk influences ("Prove You Wrong") and metronomic grooves ("Cleansing"). True, it doesn't have the classic weight of that material, but, hey, none of us bat 1.000. Victor at his worst beats most guitarists at their best. If you can write riffs this twisted and songs this hooky, you can cast the first stone.
Music's just a part of this record. Its story is part of its appeal. In 1996, Prong release Rude Awakening, their worst record (but, again, still full of interesting bits). Epic Records drops the band, they break up, and Tommy Victor has to pay the bills. He moves from New York to Los Angeles and becomes a sideman to Danzig and Ministry. He is now an employee, not an employer. That's gotta hurt. You've nurtured a project for 10 years, you get somewhere with it, and now you have to punch the clock again. (Having Danzig as a boss must be surreal.)
But Victor doesn't give up. He gets a new lineup together—but he isn't cashing in, since Prong never made money. He just wants to do what he does best. That means playing for Prong, not for megalomaniacal control freaks. But no one remembers Prong, so he signs with some small Spanish label. The record goes nowhere. It's been an uphill battle ever since.
The angst of this time really comes out in this record. Victor's lyrics tend to be abstract, to the point that I have no idea what many Prong songs are about, even though Prong is one of my favorite bands. But all throughout Scorpio Rising, phrases jump out: "We're gonna roll right through it all"; "All knowing force, a time for growth"; "To be where you need to be, to be where you need to be"; "To be self-sufficient, self-sufficient." Victor repeats them like mantras, trying to will them into reality. This is the sound of a man climbing out of a hole.
Does it work? Sort of, not really. Status-wise, Prong are nowhere near their '90s peak. Victor still does sideman work. The sad thing is, Prong's post-Cleansing records aren't that different from Cleansing. They just aren't hip, since Prong have always been Prong and thus unclassifiable. The cool kids like grindcore and sludge and black metal. They don't have time for this scruffy guy with the laser-guided picking hand. His riffs are as big as ever, but no one seems to notice.
Track listing 1. "Detached" 2. "All Knowing Force" 3. "Embrace The Depth" 4. "Reactive Mind" 5. "Regal" 6. "Inner Truth" 7. "Avoid Promises" 8. "Siriusly Emerging" 9. "Assurances" 10. "Out Of This Realm" 11. "Letter To A 'Friend'" 12. "Entrance Of The Eclipse" 13. "Red Martial Working" 14. "Hidden Agenda"