[schema type=”review” name=”Red Fang – Only Ghosts” description=”Label: Relapse Records” author=”Sarp Esin” pubdate=”2016-10-14″ ]
Our band of loveable drunken idiots are back with another full-length chock-full of rock goodness and a lot of something extra. Let’s dig in.
Red Fang may intentionally present themselves as a bunch of Pabst Blue Ribbon-guzzling idiots in their music videos, but the fact of the matter is, they have been a big part of the music scene ever since their debut with the video of “Prehistoric Dog” in 2009. Ever since their self-titled album, they’ve been climbing up, gaining ground with every new release, all the while perfecting their style, which also meant that they quickly ceased fitting the label of just a stoner rock band. From that viewpoint, Only Ghosts is the next step of that evolution: while not forgetting the past, the band takes a step forward and into familiar, but new territories.
No, this doesn’t mean they went the navel-gazing, noodling way. They are still that same, rowdy bunch, only a bit more seasoned from their experiences. At the heart of Only Ghosts is still the fuzz-laden, groovy and stompy fretboard wizardry characteristic of the stoner rock genre, as is a love of fun. Of course, it’s not all games, as Red Fang sports a very sharp edge: the music is technically sound but never overindulgent. Hard but groovy riffs backed by a rumbling bass and skillful leads abound, all supported by on-point drumming that carries a powerful impact.
This is the latest version of Red Fang’s sound, and while some parts are familiar and perfected, some things are new and a bit rough around the edges. This pretty much characterizes the dichotomy of Only Ghosts, as the album walks a fine line. The core elements of their sound are very much present, but are used to explore different things half the time. For instance, “Flies” and “Cut It Short” that open the album are trademark Red Fang joints with the twist of a present, but not overbearing, modern rock edge. They hold up, but “Shadows” feels like an outtake from Whales and Leeches, it’s just business as usual. “Not for You”, also, is a relationship apocalypse song that could’ve belonged to one of their earlier albums. They are still very good songs, so they do have a place in the scheme of things.
On the other side of the coin is an entirely new scale.
There are (at least) two instances in which the band flexes some technical muscle, boasts a real knack for fluid, engaging songwriting. These also mark clear steps in the direction of other genres, and not in a general way. “The Smell of the Sound”s ritualistic, chant-like vocalizations, the sparse but very effective keyboards and overall vibe just screams doom – like Red Fang doing (or rather gracefully capturing the spirit of) Electric Wizard in We Live. Likewise, “No Air” is a sludge-influenced, suffocating song that lives up to its title and it ventures into sludge territory a-la Kylesa, or maybe a bit of early (Red Album early) Baroness. Both times, the resultant sound is filtered through Red Fang first and so emerges as a natural extension of the album and the band’s identity, which is no mean feat.
Speaking of, however, the album seems to hit a fatigue point by track 8, “The Deep.” The following two songs, “I am a Ghost” and “Living in Lye” come with a sort of weariness induced by the album’s so-far unrelenting movement forward. It doesn’t help that they are both very similar tracks with similarly abrasive tones and so mood-wise, they feel like a re-iteration of the rougher sounds of Only Ghosts rather than the final steps they were supposed to be. This is a shame, because these three tracks are also representative of incremental exploration that seems to characterize the album as a whole. “Living in Lye” is especially guilty, as it is not a good closer.
But if the discography bell curve is true and that there can be a point where a band reaches the tipping point, and it’s all downhill from there, this isn’t what it looks like. While Red Fang does show some signs of having reached a bit of an impasse with and after Whales and Leeches, Only Ghosts shows that they are more than capable of moving forward. Only Ghosts has everything Red Fang has brought to the table so far, in spades, and then some. Definitely a new feather in their trucker caps.
Aaron Beam – bass, vocals
Bryan Giles – guitars, vocals
David Sullivan – lead guitars
John Sherman – drums
02. Cut It Short
04. No Air
06. Not for You
07. The Smell of the Sound
08. The Deep
09. I am a Ghost
10. Living in Lye