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Red Fang
Whales And Leeches Tom O'Boyle , November 4th, 2013 07:31

Red Fang rose to prominence off the back of three vivid slices of video idiocy (videocy?) whilst promoting their Relapse debut Murder the Mountains. Directed by Whitey McConnaughy, of Jackass notoriety, the cuts for 'Prehistoric Dog', 'Wires' and 'Hank is Dead' featured the zany antics of our cartoonishly rendered, Pabst Blue Ribbon swilling road warriors, be they donning suits of armour fashioned from beer cans to do battle with nerds, arbitrating booze sodden air guitar contests, vomiting in sync or smashing into various household goods with a reinforced station wagon. They worked perfectly as mindless eye candy to hold your attention while their raucous brand of perma-stoned riff rock worked its irresistible hooks under your skin. So far, so much good fun.

Red Fang seemed then to be living the dream of so many aspiring bands - grizzly, ageing music die-hards whose years of touring the US circuit in a beaten-up van finally paid off in a legitimate record deal and a chance to tour the world. The Quietus last encountered them on one of their first European tours, supporting former Relapse records alumni Mastodon, a band with whom they share many sonic similarities, but less psychedelic ambition. After a relentless period of touring, the Relapse hype machine has kicked into high gear to promote Whales And Leeches, Red Fang's attempt to capitalise upon the deserved good favour they have worked hard to build.

Relapse seem perfectly positioned in the metal scene, with a roster of past and present acts who have successfully managed to tread that gossamer thin line between commerciality and credibility. Whales And Leeches, in physical form, if you're still into that, looks beautiful. A collage of wild beasts (lenticular on the special edition) creates a larger image of something altogether more sinister and predatory, whilst upon unfolding the record's intricate innards, the eye is treated to sumptuous shots of flying saucers and animal attacks, all filtered through the retro haze of a 1950's sci-fi movie poster. Relapse's consistently sumptuous attention to detail makes their records feel all that much more unique; a special kind of crack to satiate record collector cravings.

Between the PR, the videos and the packaging, Red Fang have the style down pat, but after a few listens, Whales And Leeches comes up short on substance. For the most part the record trades in the kind of hook-laden, bellowing riff rock people loved them for in the first place. 'Doen' serves as an opening statement of intent, consternated growling and churning, negatively charged riffs which seem to indicate that the party atmosphere of their music is a thing of the past, an impression which rapidly evaporates with 'Blood Like Cream', a song which attempts to recapture the hits of old and has 'first single' written all over it, be that in its hook laden verse or its anthemic 'cut it up, cut it up!' chorus. This is a template to which the band almost slavishly adhere from here on in. 'No Hope' contains the kind of post bridge rifforama you'd find yourself inadvertently breaking the speed limit to, and is drummer John Sherman's most joyously thunderous moment. 'Crows In Swine' is a labyrinth of Mastodon-inspired guitar hooks and twisting tempos. By the time the fifth track 'Voices Of The Dead' comes around the formula feels over-familiar, and despite the verse's memorable "Build the world and watch it die" refrain, begins to wear a little thin. Salvation comes to the tune of 'Behind The light', as its tortured leads segue into a mid-album reverie of experimentation. 'Dawn Rising' slows the tempo to a pensive dirge, elevated by the melodramatic caterwaul of guest vocalist and sludge scene veteran Mike Scheidt. It is the album's high point, an interesting curio amidst a set of songs that rarely deviate from the band's established strengths, and as a result lacks a certain sense of adventure; this is a record that rarely takes the listener by surprise.

It is evident that Red Fang never set out to reinvent the genre, releasing another perfectly capable record full of catchy refrains that any lover of the almighty riff could agree on. Therein lies their greatest asset - no matter which sub-genre you swear your allegiance to in the heavy metal arms race, everyone loves to get together, have a few drinks and bang their heads to bands like Red Fang, but 'Whales And Leeches' ultimately fails to capitalise upon or recapture the spirit of their previous releases.