Between the slight chill in the air and the rain drying from just hours before, a mid-October Friday hardly seemed like the best time for a metal show on the open seas. But as metal bands go, Prong never gave much thought to convention, as it broke out of New York City underground in the early ’90s with a trademark blend of thrash metal and industrial groove that helped kick-start a whole new approach to heavy music. Prong’s headlining engagement on a Rocks Off! Concert Cruise—aboard the canopy-equipped Queen Of Hearts—was its first in the NYC area in five years, and it would take a lot more than a potentially rainy fall night to put it down for the count.
 
The ship was crammed with a modest but dedicated crowd, and everyone was beyond excited for Prong’s return and unfazed by the single-location time commitment a boat cruise demands during CMJ Music Marathon. Many were also quite intrigued by the openers, who were two unsigned workhorses cut from very different cloths. For Sleeping Or Jumping’s hyperactive math-metal flies right in the face of traditionalism, and Brazilian death-thrash band Eminence took many of Prong’s influences along darker, more desperate-sounding directions to find its sound. But after a beer or three mixed with clear views of the night skyline, sheer amplifier volume brought everyone together as each band conspired with the act before it to up the intensity.
 
For Sleeping Or Jumping felt like the court jester of the three bands, as the Boston-based quintet careened off of poles and walls while barely missing a beat. In fact, the band’s math-metal (meth-metal if we count occasional trips to grindcore-style hyperspeed) could easily be discounted as a Dillinger Escape Plan copy if not for its sheer demented ingenuity. Yes, the players’ weird time signatures and willingness to injure themselves live are both there, but For Sleeping Or Jumping somehow felt like a more musical approach to the noisy Calculating Infinity-era of DEP if anything—though more post-hardcore and Deftones-infused than the average metal snob would likely guess. The band played every song from its new Dead Languages EP plus an older track, and while the mosh pits weren’t ready to start just yet, it was clear from how riveted everyone in front of the band was that For Sleeping Or Jumping made new fans that evening.
 
With the crowd set up nicely, Eminence eagerly tore through the audience with fury that wouldn’t have felt out of place at a Sepultura concert. But in contrast to Brazil’s most famous metal export, it feels like the best for Eminence is yet to come. The boat was Eminence’s debut on U.S. soil, and with a new record due out next year to be produced by Terry Date (Pantera, Deftones), it was all the more noticeable when the one new song the band played got the most intense audience response of the set. By the time the band went into the title track from its most recent album, 2008’s The God Of All Mistakes, moshing was erupting in pockets before the stage.
 
Those mosh pockets merged into a violent soup just in time for Prong, who played as if commanding an entire arena to thrash. Founding singer/guitarist Tommy Victor was in top form, and recent drummer Art Cruz (ex-Winds Of Plague) powered the crowd into a maelstrom. Playing for just over an hour, Prong never left any question as to who was running the show. And its prime-cut-packed set featured a perfect mix of tunes from its early milestones and its comeback album, Carved Into Stone, but it hit its apex at the modern classic “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck,” as the members of For Sleeping Or Jumping dived into the pit once the opening riff fired off, taking fans down with them in a pile of sweaty bodies.
 
For the people who were there, Prong’s return to New York was an instant CMJ classic, raising the profile of both openers and giving everyone in attendance a night to remember in a unique setting. And from the excited photos and tweets getting shot all over the internet from locations somewhere on the Hudson that night, it seemed clear that anyone who balked at the time investment of coming to a boatshow had reason to regret their choice.