Review Summary: A joyous, if not entirely consistent stab of stoner rock fury.
It's peculiar that Portland-based Red Fang have gained audacity primarily due to the three hilarious clips directed by Whitey McConnaughy of Jackass notoriety. It seems that music videos are still a powerful art form prone to attract the listener's attention, at least if they're so gloriously goofy as McConnaughy's work which ideally encapsulates Red Fang's brazen, beer-soaked brand of stoner rock. The quartet's Relapse Records debut Murder the Mountains stood out with its expert symbiosis of potent riffs, punk energy and infectious melodies, but also hinted at a more adventurous and far-reaching approach to songwriting. By comparison, Whales and Leaches is a disappointingly safe record that sees the outfit settling in the confines of their established style rather than progressing. There's hardly anything novel in the group's musical arsenal as they continue to tread a fine line between Mastodon's sludgy harshness and Torche's punk-infused approachability. This strategy makes for an overly familiar, though still pleasurable listen.
Brief mid-tempo party rockers, which they've mastered on the previous offering, are in abundance cluttered mindlessly through the first half of Whales and Leaches. Numbers like 'Crows In Swine' and 'Behind The Light' surely burst with dexterous transitions and memorable hooks, yet they blend seamlessly with some less-than-stellar cuts, such as the annoyingly repetitive 'No Hope' or the utterly unremarkable 'Voices Of The Dead.' The album's latter half thankfully provides more diversity. 'Dawn Rising' is an undoubted highlight, finally letting some much needed oomph into the act's presentation. The atmosphere gets way more ominous with aptly slowed-down tempo. In addition, Mike Scheidt of YOB fame steps in to lend his signature piercing howl which superbly complements Aaron Beam's powerful cleans. As a result, this monumental track finds Red Fang at their most viscerally compelling. The record also ends neatly with the dreamy space rock of 'Every Little Twist' that boasts for once a distinctive sonic palette.
Adhering to the same formula most of the time Whales and Leeches rarely takes the listener by surprise. The album is largely conventional and vapid with its reliance on guitar leads and solos that fail to differentiate themselves from the pack. If nothing else, the vocals of Aaron Beam and Bryan Giles have improved, offering an even sharper interplay between pristine clean singing and feral screams. Producer Chris Funk reasonably places them high in the mix against the backdrop of a warmly fuzzed-out, if decidedly lucid sound of instruments. Regrettably Whales and Leeches is too short on substance to amply support its top-notch production values, often showcasing the quartet on autopilot. On their third outings most bands attempt to step up their game in terms of consistent songwriting. Instead, there are as many skippable tracks on this record as those worth revisiting. Mere competency is not sufficient to turn heads, especially in the year that abounds in high-quality stoner rock releases.
For me, Murder the Mountains was a tremendous grower. I just went from merely liking it to loving it. This one just have a couple of tracks I will come back to. Nothing less, nothing more. I still like these guys, but they should pay more attention to their music than fancy artwork next time.
The early/mid 90s scene defines it for me, especially Fu Manchu, Kyuss, and Monster Magnet. But it's come to describe loads of different styles of stuff now really. Fuck knows how you'd describe it, you just know it when you hear it! If I had to give one example of a track it'd be "50 Million Year Trip" by Kyuss.
Nice review btw Greg, interesting recs which I haven't heard of, exactly what the reccommended section should be for, not all the obvious stuff.
Thanks, man. In my opinion, Murder the Mountains is infinitely better than this. None of these songs even touch such classics as Wires and Throw Up.
As for quintessential stoner rock, really lots of stuff. Kyuss, Clutch, Sleep and Supafuzz are essential whith their 90s releases that basically paved the path for the genre. But also, plenty of amazing albums were released in the following decade. A permeating groove and heavy, often fuzzed-out riffs are definitely the main attributes of the genre.
After a couple of listens, I almost forgot about its existence and I listened a lot to Murder The Mountains. I think I gave it a 3.5 because I wanted to like it in the first place. DOEN, Blood Like Cream and Dawn Rising are the most memorable, but there's nothing that groovy as some of the tracks on MTM. Great review, I think this is a transitional phase for the band.