Red Fang

Arrows

Written by: AP on 05/12/2021 20:32:58

Red Fang is often referred to as a stoner metal band, and while that term certainly represents their musical exploits, the beer-pounding personas they adopt, and the drunken shenanigans those get into in their highly entertaining music videos paint an entirely different image for the quartet. They are known as the whimsical nerds unafraid to take the piss out of a genre that is often a bit too serious for its own good, and as a result, the Oregonians have been able to carve out their own niche and a sizeable following to boot. But as their previous full-length, 2016’s “Only Ghosts”, went onto prove, the four musicians are also skilled songwriters with a penchant for introducing pop sensibilities into a genre that few would ever describe as accessible let alone mainstream. It was their magnum opus thus far, darker and more progressive than previous outings, but also full of variety, and never short on those nuggets of catchiness that are the band’s staple. It was therefore always going to be a difficult task to assemble its successor, which is possibly the reason it took Red Fang almost five years to release this fifth and latest offering of theirs: “Arrows”.

After the eerie and ambient opening track “Take It Back”, the first thing you are likely to notice is the extremely lo-fi style of production applied to these recordings, which seems to be chasing some misguided notion of authenticity there is no real need for. The first song proper, “Unreal Estate”, sounds like a “Remission”-era Mastodon piece heard through a shoe, and although the band’s songwriting prowess does come to its rescue, it is impossible to escape the feeling of a musky old blanket resting on top of one’s speaker when this and indeed all of the tracks on the record are playing. It is obviously a matter of taste, but in my ears the productional decisions of Chris Funk render “Arrows” an absolutely abysmal listening experience as far as the tone goes. Beneficially for the band, however, the four musicians themselves have not lost their knack for creating impossibly catchy tunes like the titular “Arrows”, which features dark and mischievous guitar melodies by David Sullivan and Bryan Giles, and coughs up a litany of opportunities to sing along with the bass-wielding frontman Aaron Beam after you have finished convulsing in laughter at the outrageous music video.

Other highlights beneath the murky surface include “Two High”, with its groove laden guitar riffs and boozing swagger reminiscent of Orange Goblin, and the hard-hitting “Anodyne”, a real fist-pumper that is destined to become a staple of Red Fang’s live performances thanks to the easily learned, gang roared punchline in its chorus. Elsewhere, both the punnily titled “Fonzi Scheme” and the following “Days Collide” introduce a more subdued, and at times psychedelic edge to the proceedings, the latter in particular channeling the crucial influence on stoner bands that is Black Sabbath. They play like reveries of the darker and grittier style the quartet explored on the aforementioned “Only Ghosts” — but none more so than the consummate highlight “Why”, which presents a sullen and melancholy facet of Red Fang that has been hidden from their image thus far. The track explores the tragedy of addiction, and while this has been distilled into an absurd music video featuring a pizza restaurant mascot developing an addiction to… well, pizza, make no mistake: there is nothing amusing about the heavy lyrics Beam has written for it, nor the glum instrumentals that perfectly encapsulate its theme.

Still, all these riveting moments are rendered less enticing by the prospect of basically having to listen to them through an old, crackling radio. And as a further criticism, whereas “Only Ghosts” offered a diverse, but also coherent listening experience, “Arrows” both has a tendency to sound repetitive and yet like a patchwork of disconnected tracks. The record suffers from a distinct lack of either a lyrical or a musical leitmotif, and as such it does not merit the kind of close listen that its predecessor did. I had been expecting more after such a prolonged wait and judging by the muted response from both fans and critics alike, “Arrows” is likely to be remembered as one of the less impressive pieces of the Portland band’s repertoire.

6

Download: Arrows, Two High, Fonzi Scheme, Why
For the fans of: Bersærk, Big Business, Orange Goblin, Torche
Listen: Facebook

Release date 04.06.2021
Relapse Records

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