Over the past two decades, Relapse Records have brought us some of the most seminal albums in metal history. They hold a catalog of releases, that between 1990 and the present day, boasts titles such as Neurosis’ ground-breaking Through Silver In Blood, the first three Dillinger Escape Plan albums and Mastodon’s goliath sophomore effort Leviathan. It’s a feat only matched by fellow metal titans Roadrunner Records, who have adopted a slightly more mainstream focus as of late. So kudos to Relapse for gathering a diverse, if no less heavy roster, and further credit to them for upcoming release Only Ghosts from Portland’s Red Fang, which echoes the spirit of Relapse’s past, all the while dragging it kicking and screaming into 2016.
Only Ghosts begins with a thudding kick drum and southern-fried guitars before kicking into a surge of guttural yells from guitarist Bryan Giles. It leads to an eerily memorable vocal refrain by bassist Aaron Beam in which he confesses “You know that I can’t sleep, I’ve been awake for weeks, and someone’s dying”. Flies is everything you could want from an opening track, rampaging out of the speakers with gusto and ending with a veritable smorgasbord of savage leads. Cut it Short continues the riff-a-thon. All swaggering guitars and desert vibes, it proves to be one of the most accessible songs in the bands catalog, while the Queens Of The Stone Age meets Mastodon grooves of No Air packs enough punch to topple buildings.
Unlike the slightly muddier sounds of previous releases, Only Ghosts finds the band sounding absolutely vast in comparison . The drums of John Sherman in particular, pushed right up front, every tom roll sounding seismic, every snare hit driving the record forward. This helps the all-out rock of Not For You to sound as polished as more mainstream acts, but doesn’t take away from the raw grime of tracks like album centerpiece The Smell Of Sound which mirrors the brutal, sluggish pace of bands like Crowbar and EyeHateGod.
A comparison could be made to ex-label mates Mastodon, with towering screams and murky clean vocals over a punishing metal backdrop. Truth be told, they do share a similar sound, but what Red Fang may lack in true pioneering spirit, they make up for in sheer, forceful rock n’ roll power. The likes of I Am A Ghost, which comes across like a Lemmy-fronted doom band and the mid-section shred of Shadows, sound truly feral.
Red Fang have worked intensely hard to get to Only Ghosts. Previous releases such as 2013’s Whales and Leeches showed the band helm their influences into a mixing pot of dark, technical malice, but a heavy touring schedule and acquired studio savvy have helped Red Fang truly master their craft here. On this, their third album, the band sound bigger, grimier and even catchier but lose none of their fire in the process. Whether it be at a snail-pace grind or a foot-on-the-accelerator pummel, Only Ghosts is a filthy, bruising riot from start to finish and a sure-fire contender for album of the year.