One of 2014's biggest breakouts was Portland's RED FANG. The drone modernizers cracked as high as 66 on the Billboard charts with "Whales and Leeches", an album praised by fans and critics alike. It didn't hurt RED FANG's chances of connecting with the heavy music public that its videos are a freaking hoot, but landing an appearance on David Letterman, well, only MASTODON can boast a hotter ascension from the grit.
This year, RED FANG returns with "Only Ghosts", another step forward in its swift evolution. At times, this album is more accessible than anything the band's done in the past, yet for all the flirting with conventional rock here, RED FANG raises the bar on itself with its progression, taking "Only Ghosts" to a higher level.
A whumping bass-drum intro serves up "Flies", and this album takes off like a champ. It snaps on its pilot light with a brisk-moving, riff-chewing hum, track marks left by dingy chords and gravelly yapping. Yet RED FANG turns the corner with melodic choruses and progressions that change the dynamic in a pleasing manner without losing the heaviness. "Cut It Short", a straightforward rocker, emerges thereafter, planted down with a spanking tempo. Structurally a bipolar opposite of "Flies", RED FANG pours the volume into the tracks socked-out choruses. There's a subtle QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE methodology to "Cut It Short", but RED FANG drops this one with pervasive bass reverb from Aaron Beam and a wicked breakdown sequence. From either band, this track would be huge.
Dumping the listener into a static-laden echo chamber on the 1:34 instrumental "Flames", RED FANG doesn't so much as offer a breather as it whets its own distortion-smeared palette for the bass-bombed "No Air". "The Smell of the Sound" and "I Am a Ghost" later on the album isn't smothered by Aaron Beam's bass like Nutella on bread. If "Cut It Short" (and "The Deep", for that matter) is akin to QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, consider "No Air" likewise answerable to KYUSS, albeit RED FANG takes this song to a slow, sweltering habitat where the chords hang like kudzu and one is obligated to trudge through its audile mud. When you have QOTSA/KYUSS mixer Joe Barressi on your production team, then the facsimile is no mere coincidence.
"No Air" is effective in conveying an asphyxiating climate to gnaw through before a rallying holler of "Fuck yeah!" kicks off the much rowdier "Shadows". Everything about "Shadows" is filthy in tone, from David Sullivan and Maurice Bryan Giles's screeching guitars to John Sherman's globby double kicks, and, of course, bass lines so grubby you imagine Aaron Beam's mom admonishing him to shower up. A stellar pickup in the progression, considering the song already moves like a hotfoot, takes the song to even greater heights. "Can't take this!" the chorus shouts, but for the listener, it's more like don't let it stop.
If the FOO FIGHTERS dirtied up for a spell, it might come off like "Not for You", RED FANG's most accessible song yet, but it is still too roughneck for mainstream radio. That being said, "Not for You" delivers a pleasurable kick to the ear with yet another shrewd progression before turning up the juice on the final chorus. Speaking of progressions, what RED FANG engineers from the slogging traipse on "The Smell of the Sound" might be the finest bit of songwriting the band has yet achieved, which is saying much.
RED FANG, in its own nutty fashion, is a drone brainiac who turns distortion rock into an imperious form of rock theater, at times with its tongue rammed as far as its cheek muscles will contain it. "I Am a Ghost" is a total scream and invites video treatment via another one of their clownish comedy clips. For all their nyuks, however, RED FANG does take its playing deadly seriously, thus the band has become a maestro of fuzz-like MASTODON, BARONESS, TORCHE and KYLESA, pushing this form toward high art.