14th October 2016 – Relapse Records
02. Cut it Short
04. No Air
06. Not for You
07. The Smell of the Sound
08. The Deep
09. I Am a Ghost
10. Living in Lye
For a group having crushed it for so many years it’s a little surprising that Only Ghosts is only Red Fang‘s fourth full-length, following 2013′s Whales and Leeches. Opting for a surprisingly syrupy production, it marked a departure from the grit and filth of their initial two records. Here they’re back to their sledgehammer stoner fuzz, but have returned refreshed, slimming down their formula to produce something still as hooky but more visceral.
In hindsight, Whales and Leeches didn’t stick with me much after the initial release. Despite heavy rotation, a lot of the tracks didn’t have a great deal of staying power, even the single cuts; the production was strongly reminiscent of Mastodon‘s shift from Crack the Skye to The Hunter, a philosohy which meant Fang lost a lot of their unpolished edge. On their second album Murder the Mountains they went hardcore for their Melvins-y weird-ass noise-sludge but always kept the hooks and melodic elements of their debut. Four records deep it seems like that’s the defining element for their sound.
Only Ghosts is great for getting to the point. Admittedly this has never been much of an issue for Red Fang, who don’t tend to waste much time in their songwriting philosophy, but it’s apparent here that they’ve cut a lot of superfluous stuff out and replaced it with riffs and shouting. The record starts with the throaty “Flies“, which slips into the hook pretty swiftly. It’s also apparent that they’ve kept some of the sensibilities of their previous outing; second track “Cut It Short” is a firm candidate for a single release with plenty of memorable moments which have done well for them on previous single cuts.
Elsewhere there are a few risks; the short instrumental “Flames” could be accused of being superfluous but adds an unusually proggy texture to the first half of the record. Red Fang have always had a great sense of space and use their lyrics very well; their songwriting chops don’t begin and end with hooks, but they have a real knack for when vocals can be kept to a minimum and delivered with sledgehammer force. They’ve cut down on tracks with long words streams, favouring tracks with shorter bursts of well-arranged lyrics. The overall feel of Only Ghosts suggests that while there are some unusual flourishes, the record was edited meticulously, and songs seem to have a stronger architecture than previously. By distilling their essence, they bring their best qualities to the forefront. This is the strongest point of Only Ghosts: that after a few dalliances, Red Fang have come to settle on a beastly, coherent sound.
It’s tempting to lump Red Fang with bands who’re writing stoner metal in an obvious vein of other acts, and though they’re very much a genre band, there’s an engagement with elements that you don’t find elsewhere. Though the noise elements present on Murder the Mountains have largely been assimilated into the general grit and snap of their sound, their hooks have rarely felt as poppy as they do here. There’s a genuine sense of being road-hardened, which suits them down to the ground; stripping-back a band’s sound can be a little risky but they’ve been successful in putting forward a version of themselves that’s in keeping with their branding. One can only assume this is entirely genuine.
Part of Red Fang’s enduring popularity is that they’re having fun 100% of the time; from the daft music videos to their social media presence, they nail the golden-age drunk wasters in a rock band pretty damn hard. Only Ghosts is their most focused, salient record to date, comparing favourably to previous material; it’s also fun 100% of the time.