Typically, it's not the best news to hear that a band has cleaned up its rougher edges. Gone are the experimental outbursts and anything remotely ballsy -- something that tends to plague heavier bands looking to grasp a wider audience. But some bands know how to get it right. Like Portland, Ore.'s Red Fang, whose style resides somewhere between grunge and stoner metal with a touch of sludge. You can get a feel for that in the below live video of “Malverde.”
Red Fang's recently released sophomore outing, the awesomely titled Murder the Mountains, isn't quite as urgent as their self-titled 2009 debut. But the quartet hasn't lost a bit of their hunger or attitude. They have simply matured as songwriters, because the album is one hell of a well paced and cohesive listen.
Their debut's crushing riffs, choice chord progressions, and heavy bass all remain. But they're all more refined and part of a very organic maturity by the band. This makes sense, of course, as Red Fang was a mere combination of the band's first two EPs and Murder the Mountains is a fully realized affair. It also didn't hurt that their second record was produced by Chris Funk, who has worked with the Decemberists, and mixed by Vance Powell, whose résumé includes Kings of Leon and the Raconteurs. These upgrades were likely the result of the band's signing with Relapse Records, home to acts like Coalesce, Howl, and Pig Destroyer.
There were glimpses of what you hear across their new album on their debut, especially on Red Fang's killer single, "Prehistoric Dog." But everything is much tighter and polished – yet still completely filthy and distorted – on Murder the Mountains. “Wires,” for example, treads into a Melvins-esque, nearly jazzy jam before the guys bring it right back. That's the mark of a band that is as comfortable showing off their chops as they are giving you tinnitus. Elsewhere, Bryan Giles and David Sullivan turn their guitars into screeching sirens at the end of “Throw Up,” which leads into drummer John Sherman's skin pummeling introduction to “Painted Parade.” You want to talk about tight playing? It's like these guys recorded the whole thing in one take without taking more than a breather for a beer or shot of bourbon.
Said shot would probably help to soothe Giles' throat, which is the source of his brutish, but not abrasive, growl. Bassist/vocalist Aaron Beam helps that cause, too, as he provides a cleaner, mellifluous counterpoint to his bandmate's roar. They have probably grown tired of the comparison, but it's somewhat similar to what was heard from Queens of the Stone Age before Nick Oliveri left the band. Just as he balanced Josh Homme's dreamier falsetto, Beam's melodic vocals do the same for Giles' roar. This back-and-forth gives Red Fang the ability to be both punishing and borderline-pleasant, such as on Murder the Mountains' first two tracks, “Malverde” and “Wires.” You can stream the latter below.
What this really means is that the best is yet to come from Red Fang, who have shown immense progression across only two albums. If Red Fang put the band on your radar, Murder the Mountains will keep them in your rotation. These guys boasted a crossover sound before. But with this record, their potential is now fully realized.