Review Summary: Primitive in ferocity but not in ambition.
Prong are one of the more interesting metal bands that actually managed to get at least a modicum of the recognition they deserve. They were among the first to make the transition from thrash to groove, and certainly among the most unique of those who did so. What is so notable about their sound? The obvious answer is frontman Tommy Victor’s versatile guitar playing and songwriting, able to shift at will from pure aggression to cold precision, to a dissonance not unlike what you might hear on a noise rock or post-punk record. Though equally important is Ted Parsons’ performance behind the kit, bringing exactly the kind of mastery and sheer power you’d expect from someone who had drummed on some of Swans’ most inspired albums. These two formidable pillars were joined by bassist Mike Kirkland, formerly of New York hardcore band Damage, and thus the original lineup was complete.
Despite the relative lack of buzz surrounding Prong’s early efforts, it would be specious and misguided to imply that these are merely humble beginnings. Indeed while the sound on display here is couched in crossover thrash stylings derived from the New York Hardcore scene, make no mistake: this is not a light-hearted headbanging romp a la Carnivore or S.O.D. The trio’s goal was clear from the beginning: to be more than a product of their environment, more than a sum of their various (and varied) influences. And for the most part, everything interesting about the Prong sound is present here in some form, with varying degrees of subtlety.
Naturally, this is the band’s quickest effort both in terms of the tempo with which they assault the listener as well as duration, clocking in at just under 20 minutes. The production is rather raw and primitive which makes perfect sense given how firmly rooted the sound still is in hardcore punk - a far cry from the metallic, mechanical sound they would later be known for.
In terms of guitar, Tommy’s playing is at its most frantic and deranged, making ample use of breakneck tremolo picked riffs with a punky edge to them completely unlike any of his later material. Primitive Origins is Prong at their most energetic, yet the embers of their signature sound are still there: pinch harmonics used liberally yet deliberately to add flavour, dissonance (Denial, Persecution) and catchy grooves (In My Veins, Climate Control). The songwriting is so fresh, dynamic and varied that it calls to mind Voivod’s RRROOOAAARRR or perhaps early Coroner as opposed to any generic crossover or hardcore affair. Despite their fairly short lengths, the tracks do not have predictable formulaic structures and they move from section to section at a natural, brisk pace, keeping the listener’s attention without ever allowing confusion. When you add the bass’ expertly utilised presence (Cling To Life, Watching, Denial), varied drumming chock full of perfectly placed fills that are neither pedestrian nor garish (Disbelief, Cling To Life), and even some experimentation with time signatures (Climate Control), the noted similarities move from subtle to striking.
It would be easy for an inexperienced fan, perhaps influenced by the title, to underestimate Primitive Origins and dismiss it as noisy amateurish punk. It would also be very unfortunate, because this oft-forgotten debut features some of the band’s most interesting and creative material to date. It may take more than a single shallow attempt, but its quality is sure to reveal itself with repeated listens.