Fuelled by muscle and menace, Only Ghosts, the new 10 track LP by Portland, Oregon’s Red Fang, substitutes the scuzzy stoner cloud of the band’s initial approach for an airtight and crisp stadium metal feel.
The classic Red Fang hooks are on point, with tracks ‘Cut it Short’ and ‘Not For You’ adapting a classic rock swing. Unfortunately, I found these to be the weakest tracks on the album, as their groove and uniform dynamics just didn’t appeal. This is more a matter of mundaneness than something actually wrong with the song though, it does stand on its own. We’ll come back to this a little later.
In terms of mood, the cinematic sci-fi/thriller overtones of Whales and Leeches is further developed with added studio effects, such as the wash of phaser and flanger on ‘The Smell of the Sound’, Only Ghost’s most psychedelic track, with an added sonar sample for extra depth. The semi-subsonic bass in the intro demands repeat listening. A refreshing thing to hear maintained through the LP is the way macho riffs combine with the spacious spooky atmosphere of production to further the define the album’s possible statement of the supernatural. Hence the title. Valid theory, right?!
Anyway, listening to the musicians themselves, playing is economical and focused, underpinned constantly by John Sherman’s characteristically punchy and dexterous drumming and Aaron Beam’s malevolent bass rumble. A simple album introduction is always a great thing to hear. Four simple bass drum kicks launch us into ‘Flies’ and its wonderfully spiky riff, taking us away into ten dense tracks of agile riffing and eerie FX.
Proceedings are spiced up lyrically with a healthy portion of guitarist David Sullivan’s Buzz Osbourne-cum-Troy Sanders battle-hardened bellowing. This trend is maintained from Whales and Leeches, that also featured a vocal cameo by Mike Scheidt from YOB, sounding like Dave Mustaine gargling glass. Duet partner/lead singer Aaron proclaims tales of morbid degradation in a new, darkened Josh Homme-like voice. Our singer’s voice really commands on ‘The Deep’ and ‘Cut it Short’, though the latter loses its spark with the aforementioned groove. And this is where things deflate a little. There are no out of step musical risks that fall short (for better or worse), no technical errors or clashing sounds, or no ravaging tempos or advanced time signatures for draining performers.
Red Fang have thoroughly stuck to their guns, but at what cost? Isn’t it the precarious vigour and creative flourish of metal that is a main appealing factor to millions of headbangers across the globe? Red Fang need to inject some new elements into their sound and evolve further or they fall into the trap of formula vs audience demand. 30% of this album is skippable, though well pieced together. This same 30% is very derivative of the band’s brand, and doesn’t punch above its weight, settling instead on bland middle ground. No risks or weird turns of pace can be heard here, making the album a tad formulaic, despite standout tracks ‘The Smell Of The Sound’, ‘Flies’, and ‘Shadows’. Therefore Only Ghosts satisfies well Fanged fans but is not immediately appealing for any new blood, despite Portlandia’s Fred Armisen having a cameo in the music video for ‘Shadows’.
You can respectfully headbang and trash bedrooms to this album, but a palpable maturity and sobering of mood and reduction of unfuckwithable groove and fuzz draws a majority of Only Ghosts into mundane territory.
2. Cut it Short
4. No Air
6. Not For You
7. The Smell of the Sound
8. The Deep
9. I am a Ghost
10. LIving in Lye