Red Fang is back! Perhaps the undisputed kings of metal music videos, it feels like a while since we’ve had a new album from the boys. This is exacerbated by the fact that their last album, 2016’s Only Ghosts, was sort of a dud. But given their incredible run of albums prior to that, I was naturally excited to see if their new album Arrows was a triumphant return for the band.
While not entirely out of their wheelhouse, Arrows feels like a bit of a departure for the band. By that I mean the band has dialed back on the catchy stoner rock elements that brought them to the spotlight, and doubled down on the doom and punk elements that have always underscored their sound. It’s an interesting turn for the band, considering that contemporaries like Mastodon and Baroness have opted for a more accessible sound as their careers have progressed. But I’m beating around the bush here – I really enjoy the direction Red Fang has taken on Arrows.
While the album loses out on some of the immediacy of its predecessors, Arrows reveals itself as a rewarding listen upon repeated spins. Rather than opening with a single-worthy banger like the band usually does, the band starts things off with the eerie mood-setter “Take It Back”. At exactly two minutes long, not only does this opener take us nicely into the next track, but it really sets the album’s dark, delirious tone spectacularly. The use of strings and synths hammers home this sense of delirium on tracks like “Arrows” and “Fonzi Scheme”. “My Disaster” sees the band take this aura further with its cacophonous, psychedelic outro.
The interlude track “Interop-Mod” not only serves as a solid bridge between the album’s two strongest tracks, but it’s also a great spotlight for drummer John Sherman. The songs it brings together, meanwhile, shows the band’s two vocalists swapping their usual roles. Guitarist Bryan Giles aggressively takes the mic on the anthemic “Anodyne”, while bassist Aaron Beam’s soaring harmonies work just as well on the jammy but foreboding “Fonzi Scheme”. Throughout the album the two singers take turns as lead vocalist – sometimes jointly – which results in really strong showings for both.
The production is very raw, even by Red Fang’s standards. This may turn off some listeners, but I find it suits this crop of songs nicely. The dingy production transports the listener to the front row of a Red Fang show at your beer-soaked dive of choice. This isn’t to say the production is completely muddy, as the drums cut through nicely and sound as lively as ever. And much to the pleasure of my bass player biases, the combination of the album’s production and the band’s songwriting here leads to many of the songs being driven by Beam’s blowtorch bass sound.
Unfortunately the album does lose steam towards the end. “Why” feels like the natural album closer, but there are two tracks after that. While the last two tracks are solid in their own right, they feel out of place. “Funeral Coach” in particular is an odd track to close with. It’s a great song, but doesn’t leave the grand-finale impact a doomier track like “Days Collide” or “Why” would have left as the album closer. I point this out mainly because I found that the rest of the tracklist otherwise gelled together so smoothly.
While it isn’t Red Fang’s best album, Arrows is definitely a strong return for the band. This new album shows that after 16 years, Red Fang still has a ton of gas in the tank. I look forward to coming back to Arrows repeatedly, and I am excited to eventually hear some of these tracks live!
Red Fang’s new album Arrows is available on June 4th via Relapse Records.
Best Tracks: Fonzi Scheme, Anodyne, Arrows, Why
Weakest Tracks: Rabbits in Hives
FFO: Melvins, Kylesa, Big Business