REVIEW: Red Fang – ‘Whales and Leeches’

red fang whales and leeches

Artist: Red Fang
Album: Whales and Leeches
Genre: Stoner Metal
Label: Relapse

There’s an insanely popular metal-themed burger joint in Chicago called Kuma’s Corner. It recently received some nationwide mainstream exposure with a controversy stirred up by using a communion wafer as a topping for a burger inspired by Ghost. I’m serious. You can’t make this shit up. But I bring this up only because I heard nothing but Red Fang during my first three visits to Kuma’s.

And that’s basically the ideal setting for Red Fang’s music. It’s fun, groovy and heavy enough to please even the most jaded of metalheads, yet not quite offensive enough to send the foodies visiting based on a recommendation in the local tourism magazine running away for quieter pastures.

I’m a fan of Red Fang’s first two LPs. But to me, they’re the type of albums you listen to a few times while trying to familiarize yourself with the band just enough to have even more fun slamming PBR and headbanging along at their live shows where they’re essentially serving as background music at the pre-game party for heavyweights like The Dillinger Escape Plan and Mastodon. But Whales and Leeches gives you enough to chew on that it even works for active headphone listening.

The record’s first couple of tracks have Red Fang continuing to deliver more of what they do best: heavy, straight-forward riff rock. “Blood Like Cream” serves as the album’s first single and, like Mastodon’s “Curl of the Burl,” is catchy and melodic enough to make me believe it could actually earn some real (gasp!) radio play on mainstream rock stations.

The Mastodon comparisons don’t end there as “Crows in Swine” has guitarist/howler Bryan Giles doing his best Troy Sanders vocal cover before the song takes an odd turn into a space-rock jam session that wouldn’t sound a bit out of place on The Hunter. Whales and Leeches still fits squarely into the “stoner metal” landscape, but the second half of the album feels like the band is trying to convince us they actually spent time growing up listening to some bands not named Kyuss.

They strike an eerie tone reminiscent of “Black Sabbath” (yes, the song) on “Failure,” while the following track, “1516,” is a thrashing hardcore punk jam. But it’s on the 7-minute slow burn, “Dawn Rising,” where the album hits its peak as the band pulls out seemingly everything in their repertoire. Almost like an album in and of itself, the song kicks off with some heavy riffage punctuated by militant drum fills before settling into a slow, sludgy groove. The diverse vocal stylings of Giles and bassist/crooner Aaron Beam keep things interesting throughout the entire album, but the acrobatic guest vocals of YOB’s Mike Scheidt bring this song to another level. The song eventually kicks into a mid-tempo banger of a riff before ending on a psychedelic “No Quarter”-esqe outro.

Some of Red Fang’s contemporaries, namely Baroness and the aforementioned Mastodon, have already received enough crossover exposure to land prime spots at major music festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza. While Whales and Leeches mostly plays as if it exists solely to satiate the appetites of groove fiends who weren’t impressed by the abundance of panty-droppers on Queens of the Stone Age’s …Like Clockwork — it also represents enough of a step forward that I wouldn’t be surprised to see Red Fang landing some mid-day festival billings in the coming year. I can only hope my liver is prepared.

Score: 8/10
Review written by: Kevin Blumeyer

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  • Randy Walton

    I’m liking the new album – great review, BTW – lots of heavy sludge, with enough groove to drink beer to. Sounds just about perfect!