When I first discovered the bearded, beer guzzling members of Portland’s Red Fang, the first thing that came to mind was their city of origin. At the time, I was in the city visiting my grandparents, and among the hipsters and overcast weather, there were a couple things I was amazed to find. First, a good old-fashioned dim sum restaurant instead of another organic café or medieval food truck, and second, 2nd Avenue Records, a record store that dedicated itself to punk rock and heavy metal, instead of another emporium of indie rock and experimental jazz cassettes.
When I walked into the store, the owner and I discussed music and I ended up asking for a recommendation on some new music. With a smile he handed me a CD of Red Fang’s eponymous debut album; I bought it, listened to it, and became hooked.
Soon after I also purchased their 2011 follow up “Murder The Mountains,” which took the head banging to a new level, and subsequently became very excited for their latest album “Whales and Leeches” when it was first announced this year. Though two years is a pretty standard waiting period between albums, it is a long time, and again I was excited to wait for the new record. I couldn’t wait for another healthy dose of chugging guitars, pounding drums and of course bassist and singer Aaron Beam roaring his heart out. “Whales and Leeches” provided all that, but not in the way I expected.
Beginning with “Doen,” “Whales and Leeches” is immediately interesting, because the produced sound calls back to eighties’ thrash, a total 180 degrees from the fuzzy sludge/stoner anthems that opened the first two Red Fang albums. “Blood Like Cream” is more familiar and is a lot of fun and should definitely be on the soundtrack of a slasher movie. “No Hope” is a loud, fierce, awesome song that highlights the band’s musical skills, as are the equally great “Crows in Swine” and “Voices of the Dead.” All three of these songs are Red Fang at their best, stomping all over the place, but they show considerable growth from the last album, as they use more complex guitar parts and vocals.
“Behind the Light” is another good song and sounds a lot like Pantera (a metal band), in a very good way. The stride of “Whales and Leeches” is unfortunately broken with the next song “Dawn Rising,” a decent tune with some great drumming, yet is killed by YOB singer Mike Scheidt’s utterly terrible guest vocals. Scheidt’s part takes over the song, but sounds like a hair metal singer doing a Ronnie James Dio impression, and it is completely out of place. I actually skipped the song the first time I listened to it, and have so far only listened to it all the way through once, with great effort. “Failure” is a slow song that isn’t as bad as “Dawn Rising,” but I’d be lying if I said I particularly enjoyed it.
The final three songs, “1516,” “This Animal” and “Every Little Twist” are interesting because they’re each totally different. “1516” again sounds like a thrash metal song and is the fastest song on the album, while “This Animal” could be a Queens of the Stone Age single and “Every Little Twist” sounds like a cut from “Murder the Mountains.” I enjoy all three because they prove that Red Fang is capable of experimentation and that they have diverse influences beside other metal bands. Overall, “Whales and Leeches” isn’t nearly as good as Red Fang’s first two albums, but it is still a perfectly solid piece of work. I’m curious to see these songs played live, and I hope that Red Fang can figure out how to experiment with their strengths and that they never hire Mike Scheidt again.