In 2013, fresh into high school and edging out of his interest in death metal, a young Jake Tiernan was gifted a $20 iTunes gift card for Christmas by his old sister. At the time, $20 was a lot of money for him to spend on a site like iTunes, and he was naturally thrilled, questioning what he could possibly buy with his newly acquired wealth. He searched for hours, listening and re-listening to every possible Relapse Records sampler and new album to find one that particularly caught his attention until he finally stumbled upon a monster-riff unlike he had ever heard. This riff was “Blood Like Cream” by Red Fang and inspired the purchase of their last album, Whales And Leeches, and a meticulous love affair for one of stoner metal’s finest institutions. Now, almost 4 years later, that love burns strong still and provides an interesting dynamic when listening to the band’s most recent offering, Only Ghosts.
Initially the album begins in typical Red Fang fashion as four thunderous kick drums give way to a monster stoner metal riff followed by the classic Red Fang gruff shouting. However by the time intro track “Flies” is about half way through, it becomes readily apparent that Only Ghosts is a different beast entirely than past albums. The ready made, riff heavy approach into the melody laden, instant-hook chorus is still there, but this time is provided in a different context as a synth begins to subtly peak its head into the background of the tracks, not necessarily playing with the melody, but instead providing an oddly ambient backdrop for the rest of the song. It is an extremely minor introduction, but one that does not go unnoticed, and provides an interesting change of pace for a band that seemingly found their comfort-zone solely through worship of the riff above all else.
Where this newfound eye for experimentation becomes slightly disappointing, however, is when track two, “Cut Short”, begins and completely lacks any element of challenge for the band. It is once again Red Fang as usual, and is an extremely solid slab of constant Red Fang fanfare, but after being teased by a broader sonic spectrum in the intro, it almost feels as if the band is cheating the listener out of some newfound expansionary elements. This feeling once again quickly changes though as a dissonant wailing of guitars introduces “Flames”. The track, which is truly nothing more than dissonant screeching of guitars and feedback, is compelling in the sense that, as far as Red Fang’s discography goes, there has never truly been a simple track of ambience and feedback, once again showing a newfound experimental leaning.
However “Flames” intrigue does not end there, as it provides an interesting bridge between the rather straight forward “Cut Short” and the oddly different “No Air”. On surface level, “No Air” is, once again, typical Red Fang fare. It starts with a massive riff, a pounding of drums, and a thick bass tone, but it quickly evolves into much more as the band reaches the chorus. Suddenly Red Fang’s usual straight forward pace is gone, replaced with a deep drop in tempo and a lingering vocal wail that creates an interesting auditory backdrop for the chorus. In many ways it isn’t dramatically different from anything they have done in the past, but acts as effective bait to draw in the listener regardless. Where it truly all comes together, however, is in the squalling, sparse drone about halfway through the song, another previously unexplored territory for Red Fang. Fortunately for them, it is pulled off marvelously, transitioning flawlessly first back into the song’s own massive, hook-laden ending, and then into the following track “Shadows”.
The rest of Only Ghosts, thankfully, follows this pattern, exploring an interesting transition between “classic Red Fang” moments and more experimental leanings, dipping into the worlds of psych rock and, albeit briefly, post punk. It is an interesting progression for the band and a stunning amount of growth since Whales And Leeches, even if it may not always be entirely noticeable as immediately as some would like. Only Ghosts is an exciting new moment for the band and, hopefully, is just the beginning as they continue to expand further into this intriguing new sonic territory. Overall, this is simply an album that cannot be missed, as it’s Red Fang at their heftiest, but also their most interesting.
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Only Ghosts is available now via Relapse Records.