RED FANG - ARROWS
OREGON STONER METALLERS GO WEIRDER AND A LITTLE ANGRIER
It has taken five years for Portland’s Red Fang to release this, their fifth full length record, and they do not seem to feel rushed or impatient. With a back catalogue of beer-stained, uncaring stoner metal, this outing seems familiar enough territory stylistically but with more of a trippy mirage atmosphere - there it is also is an edge of an ill-tempered, existential hangover to the record.
The suggestion that Arrows is likely to be an altogether weirder rock trip than previous efforts is established straight off with the troubled, musty intro of Take It Back. Distanced pained and baleful grizzly vocals and a sparse pulse of rubbery base give this the sound of stoner metal played via a drunken séance. It evaporates amorphously into the lurching low-end fuzz and cranky chugged riffage of Unreal Estate, a work of hoarse grouchy vocals and an off-kilter, anti-melody. The song sounds hopelessly intoxicated but is pretending to be sober by trying to walk in a straight line. The outcome is a shambling confrontational drunkard of a song with a paranoia issue. The soupy fog lifts a little for the cracking Arrows. If proof was needed that Red Fang do not take themselves or life too seriously then check out the ridiculous accompanying video release for the song. A queasy anti-anthem of disturbed harmonies and tottering riff work, it is a stand-out track and a point when their formula works best.
Overall, Red Fang are perhaps most convincing when they start shuffling the tempos around. My Disaster is two minutes’ worth of balls to the wall, greased-out dizzy rock with perhaps traces of early Soundgarden. Similarly Two High and the punk velocity of Rabbits in Hives get the neck muscles warmed up a bit with their faster, sordid rock rabble brevity. Conversely, the bilious Days Collide reclines forlornly into swampy classic stoner ponderosity with its corpulent and foreboding crawl. A real standout track, though, is Why – a rousing yet twisted slab of grunge metal and an island of clearer sounding plaintive rock peaking up above the narcotic bleariness. Again, the video for the song is worth catching for its glorious oddness.
Predominantly, however, Red Fang’s natural metabolic rate is in the mid-paced zone. The bass heavy crunch of Anodyne and the angular bad trip of Fonzi Scheme, for example, offer creepy and cantankerous loitering dolefulness. Their unhurried and mostly conventionally structured rock songs are enveloped in murky lo-fi haze, distortion and - less audibly - delayed secondary riffs and pedal effects that give Arrows a weird, hallucinogenic quality. Where Kyuss’ spaciness suited the arid expanse of the desert, Red Fang’s offer a meatier, more deranged back-street basement-centred bad dream. Think the video game Five Nights at Freddies with chemical accoutrements and a rock metal jam.
Arrows is strung out, slacker stoner metal teeming with recalcitrant attitude and self-depreciation. There is a demonstrably throw-away, casual delivery and Red Fang are well-known for lacing their output with a certain diffident humour but therein lies the fuzzy rub: this can occasionally sound a little too carefree. While stoner metal is, by its very nature, messy and inexact which allows for some roominess and meandering but the record – notwithstanding some real high points – can be prone to relaxing too much into zoned outness. Arrows has a handsome 45 minute run-time but it can seem longer with the second half of the record lulling a little where, after a while, some of the riffs don’t quite imbed themselves in the memory. It is a fuggy, loose and indistinct production that sounds like it is being played in a garage a few shabby doors’ away. That is entirely intentional, of course, as is the trippy, surreal vibe and it gives the band a uniqueness which differentiates their helter-skelter, jarring stoner rock. Some really strong moments but they are not always consistent - like some clear thoughts during a disturbing existentially horrific hangover.