Diehard fans of alternative-metal misanthropes Prong know who Monte Pittman is, and so does Madonna. If nothing else, Monte Pittman has connections, but that’s only part of his story.

Leaving his Texas home behind, Pittman headed for Los Angeles to set up shop as a guitar teacher. Quite by chance, his third student was filmmaker Guy Ritchie, then-husband of the Material Girl. In short order, Pittman became Madonna’s instructor, which led to him joining her onstage at a “David Letterman Show” promotional performance tied to the release of her album Music and then becoming a full-fledged member of her touring lineup beginning with the 2001 Drowned World Tour, not to mention his guitar work on every one of her records since then.

That’s all well and good, but it’s not exactly metal. Teaching her to play Pantera riffs … that’s metal. There’s actually video evidence of it on YouTube. When it comes to gaining street cred with the metal community, however, bringing six-string savagery to Prong on the hard-hitting Scorpio Rising and Power of the Damager, two of their most ferocious studio albums, as well as the band’s blazing concert manifesto 100% Live, would more than do the trick. And they say politics makes strange bedfellows.

As a solo artist, Pittman has gravitated from the full-bodied acoustic meditations found on 2009′s The Deepest Dark to the brooding grunge of 2011′s Pain, Love & Destiny. His latest album, The Power of Three, finds Pittman and co-conspirators Kane Ritchotte (drums) and Max Whipple (bass) raging through 10 tracks of aggressive, boot-stomping thrash-metal and straightforward metallic groove-mongering suffused with strong melodic currents. “Blood Hungry Thirst” is all of that and then some, while the hard-charging “A Dark Horse,” with its shadowy, sinister acoustic intro knitted together by Pittman’s fingers, “Missing” and “Delusions of Grandeur” tear the roof off The Power of Three with furious riffs and heart-pounding speed, leaving just enough room for Pittman to reel off spectacularly frenzied solos.

Enlisting recording guru Flemming Rasmussen, who was at partly responsible for the white-hot intensity and epic swells of Metallica’s Master of Puppets, Pittman left no doubt about his intentions. The Power of Three was going to be a lethal killing machine, with burly production that didn’t simply cater to a guitar hero’s whims and able to stick to the militaristic tautness of Helmet. There’s plenty of Pittman’s dynamic shredding to go around, but the drums – Ritchotte’s cymbals crashing and rippling in little blurs – and bass are just as assertive, with Pittman’s reedy vocals sounding disembodied, almost like a younger Ozzy or Fu Manchu’s Scott Hill.

And when Pittman chooses, he displays an affinity for generous hooks and wide-sky choruses, such as the ones in “Everything’s Undone,” the best song the Foo Fighters never wrote, and the even more expansive, billowing “End of the World.” Rich in melody, these are the exceptions, as Pittman and company would rather sink their teeth into gnarled, mauling riffs, like those found on “Away From Here” and “Before the Mourning Son.” That’s where the power of this threesome really lies, the only problem being that it’s pretty standard-issue stuff. There’s nothing truly original here, just some intriguing variations in tempo, a thick, heavy sound, riffs to die for and a tightness that other bands would do well to emulate.

Label: Metal Blade Records