on 3 November 2013
Red Fang are something of an unknown quantity. This may be their third album, but the band take great pleasure in defying expectations, varying their sound from song to song without so much as a by-your-leave, the result being that those in search of an easy fix often find the band frustrating. It is arguable, however, that this potential source of frustration is, in fact, Red Fang's greatest strength. In an age where bands are routinely pigeonholed into a genre and then castigated for staying there, Red Fang break with convention and dip, instead, into the styles and sounds of the many bands that influenced them. This `lucky dip' approach is certainly evident on `Whales and leeches', a fine album that takes in elements of stoner rock, grunge and metal without missing a beat and which marks out Red Fang as a band to pay close attention to in the future.
Opening with jangling strings `DOEN' quickly degenerates into a thunderous blast of post-Mastadon stoner rock, the band blowing the dust form their amplifiers with a selection of humungous riffs that seem to get louder and heavier with each successive section of the song. The dual vocal pays perfect dividends here as the more melodic verse gives way to a high octane chorus that threatens to tear the whole damn roof off as guitars and percussion slam up against Aaron Beam's feral bass guitar. `Blood like cream' is considerably drier, the riffs recalling the sand-blasted soundscapes of vintage QOTSA, suggesting that for all their metallic chops, Red Fang are as familiar with the works of Soundgarden (`superunknown' era), Screaming Trees and QOTSA as they are with the metallic might of Mastadon, Sleep and Kyuss. The song packs a hell of a groove, not to mention the sort of repetitive chorus built to be shouted out in a live environment, and yet just as the band have unleashed their pop hooks, `No hope' comes along and smashes everything to pieces with a malign glee, the band coming on like the Henry Rollins band at their most unhinged, the riffs underpinning the punkish vocals with primitive savagery as John Sherman does his best Animal impression, trashing his kit in the process. `Crows in swine' sees the pace change again, the band dipping their dirty toes into the heady water of psychedelia before once again hitting the stoner trail on the awkwardly timed `voices of the dead', a track that wouldn't sound out of place on Mastadon's last outing.
Stunningly heavy, `behind the light' is stoner rock with a nitro-glycerine core that threatens to detonate on a chorus that slams home with real force. `Down rising' is one of the album's two epics, a brutal, sludge-powered beast that sits close to seven minutes, brooding over what would happen if you placed Buzzo*ven, candlemass and Soundgarden into a room together and forced them to jam at gun point. A doomy monstrosity, it highlights the band's wide tastes and demonstrates that they are more than capable of delivering whatever sounds their endlessly spinning imaginations are capable of conjuring, whilst Mike Scheidt (Yob) adds further vocal venom. `Failure' is a strangely hypnotic track that matches Rollins-esque levels of disgust to a patchouli-scented soundscape that draws as heavily form the Doors as it does from modern metal. `1516' blazes with a primal intensity that owes much to the furious American punk scene spearheaded by Black flag, although the spirit of Mastadon never lies far away. `This animal' is exactly as its title would have you imagine, primitive and violent in the vein of Nick Oliveri-led QOTSA tracks, and then the album closes with its second lengthy jam, the five-minute `every little twist', which sees the album close in suitably psychedelic fashion. It's a fine album closer that oddly recalls no band so much as the Butthole surfers with its somnambulant tempo and chrome-plated riffs grinding up against one another.
With brilliantly realised artwork courtesy of Orion Landau and a tight run-time that leaves no room for unnecessary filler, `Whales and Leeches' is the sort of gleaming stoner trip that so few bands seem to succeed in making. True, the album hops through territories previously inhabited, but it does so with style and panache and the band, ultimately, seem to be most interested in making the music that they want to hear, rather than pandering to any particular tastes or preconceived notions of what a record should sound like. The production is crisp and clear, capturing the crack of the snare and the evilly distorted growl of the guitars with aplomb and the band apply enough melody to make each moment memorable. The child of a multitude of influences, `whales and leeches' is an album that offers nods to the grunge and alternative scenes, a hefty tip of the hat to the stoner genre and even a mildly acidic trip into sludge territory, and yet it never sounds forced or disingenuous - Red Fang may well go on to release even better records, but for now this is a fine summation of their career to date.
Like this review? There are plenty more (and a brand new interview with Red Fang themselves) over at SonicAbuse