“You’ve got nothing to say when you’re old and tired and grey.” Fatalistic words from Portland, Oregon’s Red Fang on Arrows centerpiece “Fonzi Scheme”—all the more so when you consider the salt and pepper highlights now popping through the generally hirsute unit’s collective beard. Grey though they may be—and, now 16 years into their career, arguably an older metal band at this point—Arrows is certainly a welcomed return from these veteran riff merchants. The record’s potent punk-metal groove is proof that the Red Fang are as wired as ever.
It’s been four-and-a-half years since the band delivered their previous album, Only Ghosts. An eternity, as far as album cycles go. We might’ve heard the record earlier, but, like life in general, COVID-19 put Red Fang’s plans on pause this past year. When they resurfaced this spring with Arrows’ title track, the band’s outwardly goofy aesthetic was once again running full force. That chuckle-heavy clip finds the band accidentally blowing their video budget on a sword, and preceding to show us all the kickass things it can slice through: pop bottles, watermelons…and, seemingly, a dude’s sternum. More importantly, the single identifies Red Fang’s razor sharp knack for combining fuzz-corroded metal tones with gloom- pop hooks.
Arrows begins, however, on a more experimental note, with the introductory “Take it Back” arriving as a chunky, percussion-less concoction of bass doom, head-splitting white noise, and fraught howls. Producer Chris Funk, back behind the boards for the first time since 2013’s Whales and Leeches, is credited with taking the band into some of these wilder directions, but on the whole, Red Fang still rides like they’re the distant, West Coast cousins of the mid ‘00s Georgia metal boom (think Mastodon, Kylesa). Indeed, the Portland outfit’s bare-knuckled take on 21 st century metal is ultra punchy. Take especially surly stomp-out “My Disaster,” or “Rabbits in Hives,” a gain-dialled firecracker with an exquisitely lunk-headed chorus riff. “Anondyne,” meanwhile, is a chewier take on Queens of the Stone Age-style rock, a gutter-sick amalgam of glam and sludge.
Arrows’ strangest twist, however, is likewise its briefest blip. “Interop-Mod” is a flanger-sanded outlier, some ambient peels of guitar cresting above a few drum fills from the band’s John Sherman. Inessential, perhaps, but the minute-long interlude is ultimately a harmless palette cleanser ahead of the impressive-as-hell “Fonzi Scheme.” That track’s intro riff is forceful, Red Fang’s fuzz-forward speaker- pushing able to topple a good couple hectares of old growth Oregon pine. The song gets into headier territory once a distortion-and-delay-drenched guitar fake-out ushers in a classical string arrangement from viola player Kyleen King and violinist Patti King. Symphonic and stoney, it’s one of Arrow’s most arresting statement pieces. Old and grey, sure, but hardly tired.
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