REVIEW: Red Fang’s Whales and Leeches Unleashes Primal Groove Metal

Rising metalheads Red Fang hail from a rather interesting place for metal: Portland, Oregon. While many of the most prominent metal bands of the 2010’s come from Europe, California or even the south of Georgia, Red Fang’s roots come from a place that’s more associated with the nearby grunge movement from nearby Seattle. This is interesting because it clearly has had an effect on these groovy metal mavens. Red Fang invest less in thrash speed or percussive intensity, and more in the stoner metal traditions set into motion with Washington’s iconic The Melvins. Red Fang took the teaching of The Melvins to heart throughout their career, mixing stoner metal with southern prog helmed by bands like Mastodon. The band’s third album Whales and Leeches might not further their evolution too much, but it’s a groove-laden joyride across the roughest roads that still has a lot of proficiency between its doomy exterior.

Red Fang further refine their stoner metal tradition with groovy rhythms and lots of bluesy melodies to balance out the heaviness. It’s no surprise that the band has shared tours with Mastodon, Baroness and Kyuss Lives; Red Fang definitely follow the history of these legendary acts in grooving and sludgy metal sounds. Like many of the stoner greats, Red Fang gather heavy influence from bands like doombringers Black Sabbath and proto-grungers The Melvins. The vocals from bassist/frontman Aaron Beam share plenty of similarities with the haunting, gutteral moan of Buzz Osbourne. The closer “Every Little Twist” is ripped right from that sludgy, stoner code that The Melvins pioneered during the late 80’s and early 90’s, while the downright frightening ending to “1516” is almost spectral in its imagery. The sludge reaches its freezing point in the five-minute dark séance of “Failure,” a thick, doom metal style track with psalmic distortion on lead singer Aaron Beam’s already creeping bellow. The rhythms are both tribal and frightening, as they channel the dread and haunting that first emerged from late 70’s Black Sabbath, before reaching a triumphant climb and diving back into hibernation.

But not all is at a crawler’s pace with Whales and Leeches. This is stoner metal, so expect plenty of wild guitar solos and ferocious rhythm patterns. While the album rarely reaches the technicality heard in Mastodon, the tempos are dynamic, especially in the warped rhythms on “Crows In Swine” or the proggy fever dream of “Dawn Rising.” The groove is remarkably consistent across Whales and Leeches, with “Blood Like Cream” emitting lots of bluesy guitars from axemen Bryan Giles and David Sullivan. Some songs like, once again, “Crows in Swine”, emit a massive Mastodon vibe, one right from the Blood Mountain era. “Behind the Light” features some downright epic drumming from percussion lead John Sherman, whose technicality once again tugs toward their prog rock pals Mastodon.

And while Red Fang do quite a bit to impress on Whales and Leeches, they still have trouble adding those instantly memorable moments that their peers do. The vibe dances between a slender crawl and a metal highway jolt, and Red Fang demonstrate this indecisiveness a bit too much. This makes Whales and Leeches a rather fragmented record once it closes. It’s certainly well-performed and well-written, but its focus is just a bit too off center to recommend to any metalhead. Some songs sound out of place for both the slow and fast, like “No Hope”, which sounds too straightforward for repeated listens. Red Fang seem to be stuck in this bizarre state where they rapidly jump between sluggish doom and fiery blues metal, sometimes within the same song, and it ends up being too disorienting and unfocused to be worth an instant recommendation.

Red Fang’s third album is not bad by any means. In fact, it’s a technically proficient and very enjoyable record that preserves the philosophies that guided Black Sabbath, The Melvins and Kyuss way back when. It even manages to muddy the path further, giving Red Fang a grimier and filthier sound. But the group doesn’t have its identity solidified just yet. It’s disorienting to hear something paced so slowly, then turning up the speed so dramatically. And the fact that Red Fang are focusing on these two very different aesthetic leads to them becoming mixed too much, sometimes in incompatible ways. That being said, Whales and Leeches is another respectable, albeit less confident step forward for this up-and-coming metal outfit. While it’s not an essential metal record, Red Fang continue to be a very interesting specimen in modern metal. They just need to tighten those bolts a bit more.

REVIEW: Baroness’ Live EP Delivers a Small Taste of Awesome

Since 2003, Baroness has been one of the most promising acts in metal. Alongside fellow southern metalheads, Mastodon, Baroness have pioneered a progressive metal sound that has sounded much less technical than their peers in Dilinger Escape Plan or Between the Buried and Me. After two critically acclaimed albums in Red Album and Blue Record, Baroness released the 2012 Yellow and Green, an album that furthered their path into metal stardom. 2013 marked the release of Baroness’ short live EP in Studio 4 of Maida Vale for BBC. With four solid tracks in tow, the EP is a nice grab bag of some fantastic recordings from the band, even if it’s not the live recording fans have been anticipating.

Like their former tourmates Mastodon, Baroness’ progressive metal was constantly in strong equilibrium with the sludgy alt rock sound of bands like The Melvins and even early grunge like 80’s Soundgarden. There was certainly a level of speed metal influence, but rhythmic riffs were certainly a key component to Baroness’ sound. Even frontman John Baizley’s melodic bellow has ties to Buzz Osbourne’s low-tuned voice. That low-end melody has made Baroness’ sound remarkably approachable for a progressive metal outfit, and like Mastodon’s, the band’s sound has even managed to crack the radio rock charts. The guys in Baroness are clearly educated in progressive tradition, what with the varied percussion of drummer Sebastian Thomson and the intricate bass cues from Nick Jost. Baroness is a more accessible prog metal that’s just as adventurous, but won’t leave you scratching your head with its intricacies.

All four tracks on Live at Maida Vale: Studio 4 come straight from the band’s 2012 double album Yellow and Green, an album that, while not the breakout success of 2009’s Blue Record, further solidified the band’s reputation in the rise of American progressive metal in the 2000’s. The tracks include the album’s two singles, “Take My Bones Away” and “March to the Sea”, along with “Cocainium” (from Yellow) and “The Line Between” (from Green). The two singles, especially the powerful “March to the Sea”, are fantastic recordings, with enormous choruses and a great rhythm performance on both. The percussion tremors and melodic guitar solos of “March to the Sea” remain one of the band’s best works, a highlight in their discography.

“Cocainium” is a much more subdued recording: quieter, proggier and even a bit jazzier. Baroness still have erupting choruses, though not at the level of their singles. The guitar work from Peter Adams keeps up with the virtuosity of prog metal tradition, with melodic guitar chords and plenty of obscure arrangements displayed. “The Line Between” is probably the weakest track, however. While it isn’t necessarily bad, it doesn’t have any strong hooks, nor does it experiment enough in the progressive department. The rumbling rhythm department picks up the slack, but it isn’t enough to really make “The Line Between” stand out.

The songs themselves aren’t too different from their studio counterparts, but Baroness make an effort to mix things up a bit for this live EP. Songs flow together with instrumental interludes between, sounding like one big consistent concert recording instead of segmented tracklists. Sporadic vocal variations are nice, but it’s not really the live environment the band is best on. For a small BBC performance EP, Live at Maida Vale: Studio 4 is okay, but we’re still awaiting that epic live album from one of modern metal’s most powerful bands.

Baroness aren’t really in their strongest element with Live at Maida Vale: Studio 4, but the music is still as well-composed and performed as you’d expect. The track selection is exceptional, displaying mainstream appeal, but not sacrificing the guts of the band’s sound. It’s a bit more subdued and isn’t as raw as hoped (we’re still awaiting that Baroness live album), but it’s a nice little sampler that will likely convince many to invest in Baroness’ more essential recordings.