Portland, Oregon continues to amaze as a hub for some of the best underground rock on American terra firma. The loud and earthy fuzz of RED FANG might represent the beacon call to finally summon the spotlight upon this prolific scene. There's a ton of buzz about RED FANG with their third album, "Whales and Leeches", and with good reason. Somewhere between MASTODON and the MELVINS (more in line with the MELVINS) do these guys till their distortion-dug ditties and "Whales and Leeches" is one of the most exciting records to emerge in the past year.
"Whales and Leeches" succeeds largely because of its perspiring vitality. This album will never quit on its listeners and more often than not, RED FANG creates logically structured songs crammed with all the volume and energy you'd want, wrapping most of them in diminutive time. They never cheat, however, as each song here is succinct and filled, and yet they leave the listener constantly craving.
"DOEN" has the bare staples of a MASTODON classic, straight down to constant snare rolls from John Sherman and a tugging guitar solo from David Sullivan toward the end, peeled out of the song's hammering chugs. "Blood Like Cream" is a tight garage rock blast with loads of gusting guitar scapes that heighten the bouncing pace of the song. This is a big-time rock number with hooky choruses keeping the song in check all the way. The same stride is maintained on the booming "No Hope", and faster than you catch your ankles pumping along, a psychedelic guitar solo mesmerizes overhead and it's all over seconds later. Here is what RED FANG have quickly become masters of. Save for the seven-minute "Dawn Rising", this band compacts their all-pervading thunder into brisk-moving songs that sound mucky yet contain a veteran's polish, and, even better, they wrap breathlessly.
Part of this ethos has to do with DECEMBERISTS producer Chris Funk. What Funk coordinates with the popular alt rock troupe may not seem to jive with a fuzz metal band, but stand by. Funk helps RED FANG finesse their music past ugly punk and dirty metal tones into something more precise and sometimes progressive. "Crows in Swine" is as filthy in sound as its namesake, yet Funk smartly engineers RED FANG's punishing swill into a vibrant and complex outro. "Behind the Light" is probably the most accessible song on the album with its cleanest vocals and pumping verve, but Funk doesn't allow the band to stay on a happy plot. Instead, he embraces RED FANG's propensity for psychedelics and "Behind the Light" soon pops with dynamic static and barely-harnessed squeals.
The MELVINS-sparkled "Voices of the Dead" could've been a naked crunk jam as the verses imply, but the heavily-layered, punctuated choruses and bridge offset any implications of stripped slop and maintains "Whales and Leeches"' constant bobbing groove. Ditto for "Dawn Rising", which finally slows things down, but not by much. Bryan Giles and Aaron Beam do some tricky vocal maneuvers that hit all sorts of freaky ranges while the song lumbers along in bass-heavy MELVINS fashion. This theme continues into "Failure" that yields a memorable, nearly-uplifting chorus manifesting out of the beleaguering crawl of the song. Giddily, the song ends with a question mark before the five-minute count, setting up the groovy and screechy "1516" and the peppy, QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE-esque bang of "This Animal". The closing number "Every Little Twist" embraces Aaron Beam's poking bass prods then lets rolling psych trips emerge, rounding up both the MELVINS and MONSTER MAGNET into this song.
John Sherman may not be in the same league as MASTODON's Brann Dailor but he is lethal all over this album, knowing when to heap on the rolls and when to keep strictly to business. Brian Giles and Aaron Beam's vocals tap into MASTODON's Troy Sanders and the MELVINS' Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover, which may lead newcomers to think they've stumbled across a wet dream collaboration between the two sludge superpowers. This is what makes RED FANG special and not mere copy artists.