I see Prong as a non-retarded Machine Head. Both bands have had similar trajectories, and both have demonstrated their fair share of stupid, although Prong has managed to release notable material while Robb Flynn and crew have done nothing but fingerpaint with sh*t. I bring this up because "X - No Absolutes" sees Prong sliding back towards a deterioration of quality brought upon by lousy songwriting and shoddy influences that mired much of their strange middle-era work; it at times reminds me of something Machine Head would dump out. The album is wildly inconsistent, creating an experience that reflects Prong's catalog in what I assume is complete coincidence. I'd like to think Tommy Victor's signature musical dish isn't always perpetually entangled between filet mignon and sweat from Rosie O'Donnell's armpits.
The only absolute truth in the Prong catalog is Victor's voice, which still rings with those flexible punky shouts that have worked in crossover, thrash, and even the group's odd foray into groove/industrial. Prong has been a total musical drifter otherwise, as noted by the aforementioned stylistic shifts and their tendency to shake things up. While this is molded by the same hands of "Power of the Damager," which brought Prong back to the land of crossover/thrash, it's clear that the foundation has been flooded somewhat by past influences, and not ones that work well. This is not experimental; the songs range from thrash explosions ("Sense of Ease") to groove structures of the band's 90s material. This is a decent setup, because there is a large area for Prong to explore creatively, hence why "Carved into Stone" was easily the best Prong record in twenty years.
However, the deterioration of this theme which reared its head on "Ruining Lives" appears to have gained more ground, unfortunately. The riffs lack teeth, the variance in substance ranges from excellent ("Sense of Ease," "In Spite of Hindrances") to worthy of a trip to Planned Parenthood, and the album progressively falls back on the modern influences that gutted Prong's quality output in another life. The title track, "Do Nothing," and "With Dignity" run with an alternative rock base that would make Robb Flynn cream his jeans. What the hell is this sh*t? These are the influences that helped bury Prong during its dark age, yet here they are renewed, shining in their abysmal, irksome glory. Stuff like this is bad enough to give you scabies.
"X - No Absolutes" lives up to its name: The letter 'X' represents the unknown-it is a variable of no absolutes. Prong, once caught in a creative vacuum that led to Victor hitting the restart button, sees itself lumbering down a familiar path from which its identity becomes nebulous and dormant. The pieces that had rebuilt the Prong machine to its peak on "Carved into Stone" crumbled on "Ruining Lives" and now appear like an accident of birth, begging to be put out of their misery without whispering a word. "X - No Absolutes" offers no solutions, no remedies, no clemency for its obvious predilection to put a group on the rise once more on the decline. While not a total mess, it teeters on the brink of becoming one, and that might be more distressing than a conclusive plummet. Before the fall comes a loss of footing.