Behavioural Psychologists ponder the nature versus nurture argument frequently.
The extremes of the argument state that when a person is born is it purely their genes that determine what they become later in life, or are they wholly a result of the environment they grow up in. In practical terms everyone’s actions can usually be seen as a combination of both factors, however a person born in a certain environment with a certain genetic set may find it easier to follow a certain path through life than another. This genetic make-up (the nature element) could make certain paths easier or harder to follow, but the environment the child is part of will no doubt push them towards a certain route (the nurture element). If we consider a middle aged man it becomes fairly to guess at the environment he existed in throughout his life given just a few details. However, try guessing how a new born baby will end up in 50 years given only their DNA sequence. It’s much easier to take the fully formed adult and speculate on the environment they exist in than to take the new born baby and guess how they will end up based only on their genetics.
Similarly with a band like Red Fang after a brief listen it is easy to infer the environment that they make their music in, a friend’s basement surrounded by empty beer cans, burnt-out bongs and the smell of stale marijuana hanging in the air. This is stoner hang-out music and it’s extremely proud of it. Just like being unable to ascertain the life choices of new-born baby based on genetics alone, guessing the type of music that David Sullivan, Maurice Bryan Giles, Aaron Beam and John Sherman would make when adults would be almost impossible.
Obvious reference points here are The Sword, The Melvins, Clutch, QOTSA and other bands smoking from the ‘herbal’ pipe. There’s even a touch of Mastodon in opener “Malverde” in the way the vocal line follows the jarring riff beneath. From here on things move into slightly more accessible territory with change in vocal delivery for second track “Wires” which has a looser bounce to the music lending itself to shallow head banging, presumably so you don’t accidentally drop your spliff. Indeed the two different vocalists within the band are utilised well throughout with a good split, but it’s the higher pitched attack that sits best with the laid back nature of the album. “Hank Is Dead” provides an early highlight containing plenty of bounce and a sing along lyric about Kings and Castles (or something that probably makes sense after enough bong hits) that leaves its beautifully infectious melody stuck in your head. “Number Thirteen” has a laid back slow-burn of a verse before cranking into a big hooky chorus with a more claustrophobic breakdown tacked on near the end.
Where Red Fang succeed is in knowing their target audience and delivering an aural product to match. There’s no flashy guitar licks or crazy drum fills, just straight up sludgy, grooving heavy rock seemingly born out of extended jams in the garage. Red Fang do not indulge themselves in overly complicated instrumental passages by embellishing their songs too much with unnecessary frills. The album can be stuck on in the background and followed along with without full concentration quite easily and still provide rewarding moments. This approach is epitomised on “Throw Up” providing a gang vocal chorus hooking the listener in closer before bludgeoning them (albeit only with a pillow rather than a cricket bat) with a faster mid-section and then segueing out to a slower jammed groove.
Confirming the notion that Red Fang can indeed be imagined in a basement with empty beer cans strewn about the place just by listening to the record is the promo photo of the band accompanying the albums press release. With all this mind if a new born’s DNA was found to be even slightly similar to the guys in Red Fang, it’s a safe bet that when grown up he will most likely be found in the basement of his house with a full beard, mellow disposition and the last tendrils of smoke from a recent bong hit coiling around the ceiling rafters. Whatever your genetic predisposition it is in this environment that Red Fang sound best, so roll up a fat one, get a friend to bring the cheap beers and another the ash tray, stick Murder the Mountains on the stereo loudly and enjoy. Rest assured Red Fang will be doing the same back home in Portland, Oregon.
(Out Now on Relapse Records)