Red Fang
Whales and Leeches

Portland’s Red Fang are a band I feel I should like more than I actually do.  On the surface their style of greasy heavy rock meets stoner metal jams holds great appeal.  Yet the significant hype that has been bestowed upon Red Fang and the commercial headway they have made suggests something extra special boils in the belly of their burly sound. However their first two albums, although solid and enjoyable enough on a basic level, revealed a lopsided ratio of killer tunes, such as breakaway singles “Prehistoric Dog” and “Wires”, with songwriting that swayed on the side of the bland and unremarkable.  Although sophomore effort Murder the Mountains bettered its predecessor, in some ways it suffered the same problems as the debut; a smattering of strong tunes offset by a handful of weaker songs lacking catchy or distinct elements, thusly casting a shadow of doubt over their ability to hit the sweet spot often enough.

Third album, Whales and Leeches, finds Red Fang staying close within the realms of their signature style, but this time around they deliver the most varied and consistent songwriting of their career.  Familiar influences continue to fringe their sound, most notably the straight-forward and streamlined aspects of later-era Mastodon, otherwise we essentially have more of the burly, riff-driven stoner metal that remains Red Fang’s bread and butter.  And while the band could be accused of being derivative and lacking invention, there’s an appealing no-frills and workmanlike approach to Red Fang’s formula that at the very least creates a solid soundtrack for rocking out unashamedly and knocking back a few hearty brews.

As much as they relish the groovy, riff-based approach, Red Fang pay equal attention to crafting big, hooky choruses and memorable vocal melodies, executed with a diverse yet uneven shared vocal approach. Some of the more streamlined vocal hooks carry an almost pop-like sensibility, designed for earworm addictiveness and repeat plays, although the execution on several songs leaves a bit to be desired. Sonically, everything about Whales and Leeches sounds huge.  The weighty production smooths-out the remaining rough and raw scuff marks that originally frayed the edges of their sound, while the slick sonic sheen doesn’t come at the expense of the band’s heftier traits.  Noticeably, Red Fang has become a tighter unit since their last release, playing with typical exuberance and swinging groove.

The album begins strongly as Red Fang unleashes a couple of cracking tunes from the outset. The groove-heavy swagger of “DOEN” and addictive stoner-rock hooks of “Blood Like Cream” reveal Red Fang’s adeptness at firing off punchy, pop-infused heavy rockers when the mood is right, cutting to the chase and compacting memorable songwriting into concise time capsules.   A couple of bright, fleeting moments aside, “No Hope” is the first real misstep on the album. The song’s upbeat vibe is marred by some unremarkable riffage and irritating shouty vocals.

The aggressive, very Mastodon-esque stomp of “Crows in Swine” rights the ship again, harnessing a meaner tone within a catchy, uptempo structure.  The rather pedestrian “Voices of the Dead” fails to raise any great reaction, marked by several flat vocal spots. Without doubt the most significant breaking-the-mould moment and album centrepiece is the 7-minute “Dawn Rising”, featuring the intoxicating eccentricities of Yob vocalist Mike Scheidt.  This exceptional slab of sludgy doom metal is the darkest and heaviest tune the band has penned.  The song breaks type as Red Fang generally operate more effectively when keeping their songs short and concise, but here the greater length is comfortably managed due to excellent pacing and the gritty uptempo gallop of its later half. The last handful of tracks varies in quality, highlighted by the aggressively potent grooves, snappy mid-song interplay and seriously heavy closing riffs of “1516”.  Likable as their music is, Red Fang are still a few strong songs short of living up to the generous accolades and praise that has been heaped upon them in recent years, but at least they are heading in the right direction.

Nitpicking aside, Whales and Leeches rocks hard and proves to be Red Fang’s most complete work to date, showing the promising signs of a band hitting their stride and beginning to bend the ratio more dominantly into the positive end of the songwriting spectrum.  On the other side of the coin the inconsistencies of their songwriting still hinders Red Fang’s considerable potential and prevents them delivering a truly great musical statement.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Luke Saunders
November 4th, 2013

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