I’ve been digging into the Red Fang discography for the last few days, ever since I picked up their newest album Only Ghosts on the always trusty Relapse Records. I have to say, with the exception of a few songs I’m not all that moved by these Portland stoner rockers. I’d heard the track “Cut It Short” and was impressed. I’d listened to a song here and there over the last few years and was never driven to dig deeper. I thought maybe this new album might be my gateway into the world of Red Fang. Not so much. The new album is the same as the older albums; you get big riffs, occasional Mastodon-like growling, High On Fire-lite doom, and a guitar sound that seems rooted in Foo Fighters’ One By One. None of these things are bad, really. I just prefer my metal with a little more bite, less bark.
Before the haters start hating, let me say that I think Red Fang are damn good band. There’s enough variety in their songs to satisfy the stoner, hesher, and closeted metal head in everybody. If you’re looking for a metal band to play in the family van on a trip to the store that’s not going to destroy impressionable young minds then I think you’d be safe with Red Fang. And these guys seem genuinely fun. Just watch any of their videos and you can see they don’t take themselves all that seriously. The only trouble with that is after awhile it’s hard to take them seriously at any level. Without that element of danger in metal, what’s the point?
Only Ghosts is the tightest album Red Fang has delivered thus far. Ross Robinson produced the band this time around and he gave their sound a nice, chromed-out sheen. There’s nary a spot on this record that isn’t ship shape and pristine, just the way Robinson likes his well-produced albums to be. “Cut It Short” is a fun chunk of pop metal that riff-wise sounds like one of Dave Grohl’s forays into the darker, heavier sides of his musical personality. “Shadows” is another big riff rocker that sounds rooted in Queens of the Stone Age’s Songs For the Deaf sound. “The Smell of the Sound” wallows in more sludgy doom territory, with both the melodic and growling vocals that go back and forth. “Living In Lye” is an angry headbanger that closes the record out with over six minutes of vocal belting and speed metal riffage.
The thing is, besides a sonic cleansing from Mr. Robinson we’re not that far off from Red Fang’s self-titled debut. That album’s “Prehistoric Dog” was a fun stoner rock anthem that sounded to be as influenced by “Detroit Rock City” as it was “Devilution”. I think it was also a more honest sound for Red Fang. There seems to be more metal posturing going on than actual metal mayhem on Only Ghosts. Maybe that’s intentional? I don’t know. The self-titled and Murder The Mountains found a decent balance between having a good time and melting faces with killer riffs. It was pretty much the same grind the whole way through, but it was a fun ride. Whales and Leeches seemed more of the same, and now with Only Ghosts the tread on those mags is starting to wear a bit too much.
Only Ghosts is a solid record to play as you annihilate a case of Red Stripes with some pals, or to listen to on the ride to Low Bob’s Discount Tobacco for a pack of Winstons. If you’re good with that, then party on, Wayne.