You just never know what you're going to get from Tommy Victor and PRONG, who used to haunt commercial breaks on the original "Headbangers Ball" and continue to lure dubious listeners on the merits of the band's chomping riffs alone. Following their stout "Ruining Lives" from last year, PRONG dropped themselves into Trixx Studios in Berlin for a week and clubbed out ten covers comprising their latest release, "Songs from the Black Hole".
In much the same vein as SLAYER's "Undisputed Attitude", PRONG mostly salutes punk and hardcore, a large chunk of it grabbed from the 1980s. With a couple of off-the-cuff homages to SISTERS OF MERCY and Neil Young, "Songs from the Black Hole" is hardly as vicious in spirit as "Undisputed Attitude", a covers album that gives SLAYER's fans bigger appreciation for their speed. That being said, Tommy Victor, Jason Christopher and Art Cruz (along with producer Chris Collier providing some extra guitars) whip through a mostly fun batch of covers spanning BAD BRAINS, BLACK FLAG, DISCHARGE, THE ADOLESCENTS, BUTTHOLE SURFERS, FUGAZI, KILLING JOKE and HÜSKER DÜ.
The most faithful renditions come with PRONG's take on DISCHARGE's "Doomsday" and KILLING JOKE's "Seeing Red". As DISCHARGE today remains one of the fiercest hardcore bands that ever assaulted the planet, PRONG's gallant rip through "Doomsday" provides the opportunity to metal things up just enough to make it heavier. Tommy Victor snarls his way through the cut before the band takes on the SISTERS OF MERCY's "Vision Thing" thereafter. Whereas the temptation to cover anything off of the SISTERS' widely acclaimed "Floodland" album is too great to resist with most bands, it's curious PRONG would go after "Vision Thing", cited by many as SISTERS OF MERCY's misstep into dangerously commercial territory that ushered their finish. The riff-hungry "Vision Thing" and Andrew Eldritch's placid enunciations of "motherfucker" are apparently even more of a temptation to Victor, who keeps PRONG's take dialed back and less theatric than the original.
Anyone attempting a BAD BRAINS cover had best be up to the challenge and well, PRONG's rendition of "Banned in D.C." is a match — speed-wise, anyway. The original is just too ferocious and buzz-drowned for damned near anyone to replicate in whole, and Tommy Victor does his best to salute H.R., who can never be imitated, period. Keeping in mind these songs are merely tribute, "Banned in D.C." is still a hair flat, as is their haul of FUGAZI's "Give Me the Cure", the latter of which hits a rut in its groove more than anything regarding Victor's vocal and guitar delivery. Perhaps a try at FUGAZI's "Sieve-Fisted Find", their mightiest cut, might've served PRONG's purposes better. Though slowing the groove to half-tempo on their cover of THE ADOLESCENTS' "Kids from the Black Hole", Victor does get to the meat of the original and flaunts that instead of meting things out full-force.
Of all the commanding KILLING JOKE songs Victor could've chosen, considering this band has had a profound impact upon PRONG, he picks "Seeing Red" and the band plays it verbatim. In lyrical spirit and in its winding riff patterns, one can see why "Seeing Red" makes an appearance here, yet "Money is Not Our God", for instance, seems the more logical choice to show a correlation with PRONG. The cover of the BUTTHOLE SURFERS' "Goofy's Concern" is "Songs from the Black Hole"'s smartest move, as it's even louder and more maniacal than the snorting "Who Was in My Room Last Night?" from the BUTTHOLES' "Independent Worm Saloon". PRONG gets the basic riffs and nose-diving fret slides down pat, but a series of (possibly digitized) blast beats along the course disrupts the song's intended blare and pasting drive.
As Tommy Victor cites in the liner notes of "Songs from the Black Hole", he was hardly able to emulate Neil Young on "Cortez the Killer", but the gambit of taking on this cover does pay off. Victor freestyles his way and there is an extraordinarily soothing cadence as he and the band work themselves toward the primary melody of Young's original and then lets it ride.
In all, "Songs from the Black Hole" is a pretty good knock through punk jams designed to give a little insight into Tommy Victor's songwriting mindset. "Undisputed Attitude" it's not, but fans won't find much to object to here.