Red Fang

Whales And Leeches

Written by: AP on 11/10/2013 23:23:20

Despite their birth eight, and the release of their debut album five years ago, Portland, OR based stoner metal gang Red Fang have been the perennial support band (at least on this side of the pond), proving a reliable opening act to more revered outfits such as Mastodon and The Ocean. In similar vein - and perhaps this is the very reason for the lack of a headlining tour as of yet - the group's past two albums "Red Fang" (2009) and "Murder the Mountains" (2011) have, to me, always delivered glimpses of brilliance, but failed to reproduce such in a consistent manner across the either of the records. The material has undeniably been strong, but not strong enough to warrant a meteoric rise to stardom. With this latest outing "Whales and Leeches", it seems Red Fang have at last nailed the formula needed to carry their own weight, and an imminent headlining tour of Europe stretching nigh on three months early next year is proof of its promise, not to mention the belief that Relapse has in them.

As is customary for bands intending to make a point, Red Fang come at us with all guns blazing on the dark and intense opener "DOEN", whose sonic weight and atmosphere bears a certain resemblance to Mastodon circa "Blood Mountain" (a certain track called "Crystal Skull" comes to mind, in particular). It is built around a simple, yet effective lead riff which forms an instant memory imprint and sets the precedent for the general approach employed on "Whales and Leeches". With a few exceptions, these are not complex, or necessarily even innovative songs, but they're delivered with passion and vigour; the sort that virtually any segment of the metal community is likely to absorb without complaint. Take the following "Blood Like Cream", for instance: it demonstrates Red Fang's uncanny ability to transform the simplest of ideas - in this case a gang yelled barrage of "Churn it up, churn it up, churn it up!" in the chorus - into one of the most powerful moments on the record. There is also a certain deviancy to its verse that reminds me of the Dillinger Escape Plan's "Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants" and lends the song a wonderfully unsettling tone.

Despite the overt pop sensibilities that Red Fang flash, "Whales and Leeches" is not some sugary radio thing, however. Spin tracks like "Crows in Swine", with its syncopated rhythms, oddball riffs and organ, and you'll notice just how focused producer Chris Funk has been on accentuating the bass tones and layering the instruments so as to transform deceptively accessible songs into earth rattling colossi. "Behind the Light" is another sparkling example of this, combining the unnerving atmosphere of the already mentioned "Blood Like Cream" with noisy psychedelia to construct a soundscape which grows progressively louder, more textured, and more evocative as it ploughs toward its 02:49 clock time. It's a good precursor to the rumbling stoner-doom trudge of "Dawn Rising"; another definitive highlight of the record, and the first to betray Red Fang's knack for hypnotic, spaced out slow stuff. "Failure" is similarly inclined, though here the doom shrinks to a minimum, allowing beams of prog to penetrate its dense rhythmic foundation and swamp dirge riffs.

Such ventures afford "Whales and Leeches" a vital degree of diversity, and even if the latter is somewhat less successful in creating allure, there's plenty of tracks à la the banging "This Animal" to compensate for such mishaps; and with a conclusion as scintillating as the Alice in Chains-esque grunge of "Every Little Twist", the chances that you'll slip "Whales and Leeches" back into its folder with anything other than a satisfied grin across your lips are approaching zero. Indeed, out of the eleven tracks presented, just three sail past without a storm in their sails ("No Hope", "1516" and the aforementioned "Failure"), and even these manage to deliver quality on par with the solid, if not extraordinary previous efforts. There is little doubt that "Whales and Leeches" is the record that will see Red Fang off to bigger, better things, and while it isn't entirely a revelation, it most certainly is a catharsis for those of us that have, with a mixture of anxiety and eager anticipation, kept a close eye on the band and our fingers crossed that they'd cash in on their potential through the past four years.


Download: DOEN, Blood Like Cream, Crows in Swine, Behind the Light, Dawn Rising, This Animal
For the fans of: Baroness, Mastodon
Listen: Facebook

Release date 15.10.2013
Relapse Records

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