Published Oct 17, 2013This week, Portland heavy rock sluggers Red Fang returned with a new album, Whales and Leeches, on Relapse Records, and despite the band's apprehension towards the "metal" tag, it's an unfathomably metal album in the classic sense of the word.
"We didn't like that label because we've played so many shows with contemporary metal bands that we just don't consider ourselves part of the modern conception of what metal is, which seems a lot more technical and sterile than what our influences are, which is more '70s metal," bassist/vocalist Aaron Beam tells Exclaim! "To us, what we do is more like hard rock. Compared to our contemporaries we're more of a rock band, but I know, really deep down, a lot of what we're doing would definitely have a place at the metal picnic table."
Whales and Leeches, released on Tuesday (October 15), is Red Fang's second with Relapse and third proper. It's an 11-song barnburner that puts them in same swampy realm as bands like Mastodon and Baroness, with another nod to one of their biggest influences: the Melvins. This time out, however, Red Fang had to record the album amidst a flurry of tour breaks, frantic band collaboration and time constraints.
"Sound-wise, it's pretty similar to [second 2011 album] Murder the Mountains, but the songwriting was a pretty different experience because we had to really set aside time and just be creative on command," says Beam. "We'd been touring so much that we couldn't write on the road, so we had to schedule time to write, and the result was we ended up with a more anxious-sounding record, and we also had less time to tinker with the songs and endlessly fiddle with them, so it's presented in a more natural state. This album exposes more of the insides of the band than the last two records, which had more of an editorial wall built around them."
Recording again with Decemberists' Chris Funk, who produced their last album, and mixed by Vance Powell (White Stripes, Kings of Leon), Red Fang also had help from a couple of their friends: Mike Scheidt of doomsters YOB sings on the epic track "Dawn Rising" and Pall Jenkins of indie rockers the Black Heart Procession/Three Mile Pilot adds vocals and saw playing on album closer "Every Little Twist."
"We'd been talking about doing some sort of collaboration for a long time with Mike. We're good friends with him, and YOB is one of our favourite bands of all time. The timing worked out and the song was the perfect thing for him to do vocals on. We sent it to him and he came up with the melody and the lyrics for it and sang the whole thing, then I went back and added in some of my vocals to make it more of a duet to have a bit more of Red Fang feel to it, and it turned out great.
"And with Pall I was just doing the main vocal line to that song and I heard a higher melody in my head, and it was in his voice. He lives in Portland, too, so we just called him up and he came down to record it. So it was really easy for both of them and it was nice to get those guys to help out."
With album artwork and song subjects inspired by old comics and sci-fi and horror movies, Whales and Leeches has a spooky, War of the Worlds-esque tone to it that meshes perfectly with the band's interests.
"[Guitarist/vocalist] Bryan [Giles] definitely has some strong horror movie and comic book influences, and that kind of imagery," says Beam. "There actually is one sample on the record between the last two songs and it's the sound of some sort of radio frequency pulse that's coming off of one of Saturn's moons, and somehow scientists have recorded that. So we stuck that between the songs and it's this kind of weird, eerie, 'what the hell is that?' kind of sound."
And despite the foreboding sound the band churn out on the album, it also has some underlying levity to it. Like all good hard rock records, this beast has ample amounts of party, something that will also please fans of bands like Torche and Big Business.
"We're just a bunch of goofballs in real life, and it's partly because we express the darker parts through the music, so we don't have to be moody, suicidal people wearing cloaks through the day. Instead we just put a cloak on our lyrics and our songs and let them be depressed so we can go about our daily business," jokes Beam.
Red Fang plan to tour the new record "for the foreseeable future," at least through most of 2014, says Beam, including select Canadian dates (below). A full listing of the complete North American tour can be found on the band's website.
Canadian tour dates:
11/10 Vancouver, BC – Rickshaw Theatre
12/13 Montreal, QC – Cabaret Mile End
12/14 Toronto, ON – Lee's Palace