If Red Fang’s legacy were to end at “Prehistoric Dog,” the band would have to its name one truly unstoppable single and one incredible LARPing-with-beer-can-armor video. Hell, that alone would be more than most bands manage to accomplish. The Portland sludge-meisters have more than merely one good single in their quiver, however, and their recent move to iconic metal imprint Relapse reveals a solid follow-through on the early promise displayed on their burly, scrappy debut. With follow-up Murder the Mountains, Red Fang have graduated to the next level of raucous, bruising sludge-dom, laying down 10 cuts of ass kicking riffs and rumble, and a truckload of hooks at that.
With production helmed by Decemberist Chris Funk, an unlikely collaborator to be sure, Murder the Mountains is about as heavy a rock album can get before truly crossing over into sludge metal territory. Though Red Fang’s sound is heavily influenced by metal’s godfathers, Black Sabbath, as well as early ’90s bands like the Melvins and Kyuss, the band’s approach to songwriting places melody and accessibility on as high a pedestal as drop-D power chords and blazing solos. By maintaining this balance, Red Fang is able to conjure up such perfectly piledriving standouts as “Hank Is Dead,” all headbanging pummel and punk rock intensity, its irresistible grooves capped off with singer Bryan Giles’ powerful yet streamlined croon. If any rock ‘n’ roll radio stations worth a damn still existed, they’d be wise to put that sucker on constant rotation. The same goes for “Wires,” a longer, meatier stoner rock shuffle that lays down a Queens of the Stone Age-style boogie with flair and finesse, as well as an eerie layer of Hammond organ.
It’s probably no coincidence that Red Fang, a Pacific Northwestern band themselves, often bear a lot of similarities to classic grunge bands of the ’90s. Six-and-a-half-minute centerpiece “Throw Up” initially resembles a slowed-down version of Alice In Chains’ “Them Bones,” itself an excellent thing. Yet added to that dirty groove is a series of furious, deftly executed riffs that bring to mind the fretwork of Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil. And the power chord punishment of “Dirt Wizard” treads territory somewhere between the Melvins and Bleach-era Nirvana.
Awesome enough as it is when the band is in full-on grunge mode, Murder the Mountains‘ greatest moments are those in which Red Fang cook up their own unique hybrid of rock’s immediacy with metal’s instrumental artistry. “Painted Parade” is the band at their most intense and urgent, with abrasive, off-kilter riffs leaping acrobatically from measure to measure. “Number Thirteen” reverts somewhat back to classic Sabbath-style blues-metal, with a chorus that pounds and soars simultaneously. And “Human Herd” ends the album on as high a note as possible, its crunchy chug and subliminal piano keystrokes transitioning into the album’s most satisfyingly heroic chorus.
When done right, a great metal album can accomplish the same thing that a great rock ‘n’ roll album does, namely to provide a cathartic release by way of hedonistic pleasure, delivered via instrumental dazzle. By releasing both a great rock album and a great metal album smashed into one 40-minute package, Red Fang are able to mark off every item on that checklist and then some.
Stream: Red Fang – “Wires”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.