Red Fang – Arrows Review

Ever wanted to spend your afternoon crafting a suit of armour from empty beer cans to go make drunken, bloody war on the D&D nerds at the local park?1 Portland, Oregon’s Red Fang got you. Ever been in the shower, sipping on a beer, when two, large hairy and, it has to be said, naked stoners apparate to invite you to an air guitar contest, before disappearing (with your tinny)? This four-piece stoner outfit understands. After a five-year hiatus, Red Fang is back with fifth full-length, Arrows, and in reassuringly generous mood, according to bassist/vocalist Aaron Beam: “Our original idea was to release the album with no vocals or guitar solos,” he explains. “If you want the guitar solos, it’s an extra five bucks. If you want the vocals, it’s an extra ten bucks. So basically people should feel lucky that we didn’t do that. You get to buy the whole thing all together.” And what is it, exactly, that Red Fang is so generously permitting you to buy?

If you’re familiar with any of the band’s previous outings, then you’d go into Arrows expecting some fairly straight up, fun time stoner, because that’s exactly what Red Fang gave us on their self-titled debut (2008) and continued to do on each subsequent outing, including discography highlight, Murder the Mountains (2011). Arrows, however, sees a slightly different direction taken, as it opens in woozy, almost psychedelic mode on “Take it Back,” with echoing gruff vocals and gradually mounting feedback and static in a very un-Red Fang start to a record, appearing to channel the likes of “Flames” from last outing, Only Ghosts. And that sense of the band doing what the fuck it wants, and not delivering just another Red Fang record, continues for the duration of Arrows. It sounds grittier and darker, an edge hinted at on Only Ghosts (“The Smell of the Sound”) but not fully explored.

Now, let’s not get carried away. This remains undoubtedly a stoner album, with the grooving, beer-swilling elements of previous outings still on show (“My Disaster”‘s fuzzed, raucous sound, and the punk rock speed of “Rabbits in Hives,” for example) but there’s a moodier, slightly dissonant undercurrent to Arrows. From the janky, burbling static that opens “Two High,” to the dirty buzzing riff that carries the title track, Red Fang feel older, grumpier and quite possibly hung over on Arrows. The husky, croaking dual vocals of Beam and guitarist Bryan Giles have remained largely unchanged across the band’s 16-year career but this record sees them edging closer to the likes of Big Business and Acid King, than to Clutch or Orange Goblin.

To a degree, what Red Fang serve up with Arrows works well. It feels simultaneously like a new direction for the band and a natural evolution of where they left off on Only Ghosts. Much as I love Murder the Mountains, there is a limit to how many times a band can turn out a record like that and so it’s great to see Red Fang taking some risks with the likes of whimsy, psych ballad “Anodyne” and the excellent fuzz of the title track. There are three issues, however, that hold back Arrows. First, it is wildly inconsistent, with the sound shifting seemingly at random between songs and robbing the whole of its flow. Secondly, it drags. Despite actually coming in just under 45 minutes, it somehow contrives to feel much longer, something I blame on that lack of flow. Lastly, the production choices are … an acquired taste. Muddy as hell, my initial thought when I first span Arrows was, “did they record this in a cave?” Well, not that far off, as it turns out, with at least some of John Sherman drums recorded in an empty pool, making them too loud, while some of the guitar lines and vocals descend into a soggy morass.

I was genuinely surprised when I saw Red Fang in the promo sump. Having heard nothing from them in five years, I assumed they’d quietly folded, so it was a pleasant turn of events to see them pop up. While I like a lot of what the band has brought to their sound on Arrows, it is an inconsistent record with murky production that I think masks some of better work the band turn out. I’m glad Red Fang is still with us and I like that they’ve continued to evolve their sound and taken a few risks but not everything works.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 224 kbps mp3
Label: Relapse Records
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: June 4th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. YES! – Steel
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