Since "Power of the Damager," Tommy Victor and company have been silently crafting some of Prong's best albums since . . . well, ever. The aforesaid record created a full-circle figure of Prong's profile that touched on the band's early crossover/thrash metal roots while integrating its latter-day modern elements smoothly-a forty-eight minute biography. "Carved into Stone" stayed the course yet managed to vaunt some outstanding compositions that showed the squad's songwriting reaching a new profundity while the typical Prong level of energy touched its expected intensities. "Ruining Lives," if anything, shows Victor unwilling to throw an experimental monkey wrench à la "Rude Awakening" into the consistent configuration and derail the smooth sailing of Prong's newfound vigor. Can't say there's a good reason to go bananas over "Ruining Lives" despite it carrying the stylistic torch of its predecessors, but it's acceptable nonetheless.
"Ruining Lives" was brought up and shot out just two years after "Carved into Stone," making it the shortest stretch between a pair of Prong records in the better part of two decades. Predictably, the ground rules of "Carved into Stone" remain the ethos of "Ruining Lives" almost to the letter. Its style is more of an overlapping diagram of Prong than a concrete set of variables, as Victor and company often dabble in the crossover/hardcore/thrash metal elements defined by "Beg to Differ" and "Force Fed," modern-esque grooves, and bloodlines of the band's middle era. The songs come across as the children of several schools of thought assimilating under one roof-thrashy riffs, mid-paced tempos, Victor's lead guitar acrobatics, accessible choruses, gruff shouts and easy-to-follow vocal lines all apply.
Yet "Ruining Lives" almost has a checklist feel to it. The inclusion of an all-out thrasher like "The Book of Change," for example, sounds like a catering act solely aimed at the Prong fans who want a thrash number and aren't interested in the other facets of the group. It's a cool song, but in a way there's this aura around "The Book of Change" and its counterparts that Prong is delivering this here and that there-some might call it phoning it in. And some of these tunes come out fun but were clearly forced. "Self Will Run Riot" and "Remove, Separate Self" are big on pop melodies and low on quality; they're all about being as catchy as possible, but lack the proper hooks or themes that Prong had made habitual back in the day.
Maybe "Power of the Damager" and "Carved into Stone" sounded so fresh and revitalizing because they were, you know, actually fresh and revitalizing. "Ruining Lives" is, well, just another Prong record of yet another saga within the band's wide and vast evolution. I like it for what it is, but the creative elements and hooking power have dwindled down a bit, and secondary qualities like the sterilized production really don't add anything valuable. "Ruining Lives" deserves neither a trophy nor a fistful of egg to its face, but it's clearly a depreciated version of the records that came before it-take that how you will. Perhaps it's in Prong's best interest to play it safe; let's just hope "Ruining Lives" is just a bump in the road.