Red Fang’s Only Ghosts Freaking Rules, Man
Man, Red Fang rule.
In their short lifespan, they seem to have set off (along with bands like Mastodon, Kylesa, and Baroness) a seemingly endless parade of C-list copycat bands that think all you need to do to be a great band is put on a cool denim jacket and stock up on ZVex pedals. But when it comes to the sick jams department, few bands hold a candle to the Fang.
And with Only Ghosts, they’ve delivered their freshest set of jams yet. On this new album, Red Fang are executing their songwriting at a deadly precision: their melodies are hookier, their compositions perfectly tweaked, their dual-throaty-vocal layers reaching an artful tier not really seen in the genre since Blood Mountain. “Not For You” and “Cut it Short” have some of the band’s most crushing riffs, but feature verse-chorus ideas that could easily sit on a pop-rock record. The interplay between Aaron Beam and Bryan Gyles is really hitting its stride, and the dudes are clearly more comfortable ever in constructing the right vocal part for the right part – particularly on songs like opener “Flies.”
These are beer-battered, deep-fried jams. Straightforward for the most part, but with the occasional time signature twist or popping-off John Sherman drum part (whose performance on this album is for sure his best yet). While every other band is worried about how cool they look in press photos or how clean they pulled off some boring sweep-picked part, Red Fang just pump out sick tunes. They’re not afraid to truly put themselves out on the line; whether its in their totally silly music videos, their out-on-a-limb vocal melodies, or their pure love of the riff.
For the Fang, the riff comes first. Chromatic lines, altering between the flat and sharp 7th scale degree, digging into the minor 3rd, ripping on single-notes Zep and Sabbath-style – all of the classic riff-ingredients are tossed in the Fang’s jam-pot. Their respect for the power of a riff is partially what makes songs like “Shadows” so much fun to listen to, because the dudes just bathe in this stuff. And this commitment allows their full-bore power-chord choruses to actually work, because they understand how effective basic dynamics can be.
This is also the band’s best sounding album yet. Producer/knob-twiddler Ross Robinson (At the Drive-In, Cancer Bats, Wild Throne) and mixing engineer Joe Barresi (The Melvins, Queens of the Stone Age) have found a perfect balance between the band’s performative energy and their keen ear for tone design. Only Ghosts seriously gels – crisped-clean yet dirt-red guitar tones, bedframe-solid bass, and drum sounds that I’m sure are making Dave Grohl’s knees quiver as he listens in front of his iMac. Robinson and Barresi are definitely working off ground that they know well, but still allow the natural sound of the Fang to breathe in the mix.
If I had one gripe with this band, it’s that they’ve focused so hard on going for the throat with instantly-clicking songs, that they haven’t yet really leaned back to try and write stuff outside of their comfort zone. I know its not the band’s intention, but sometimes these tunes go down too easy, and I find myself reaching for their albums less and less after a dozen or so spins. But nevertheless, Only Ghosts is a sick album, and I’m pretty sure it’s Red Fang’s best yet.