By Gareth Watkins
CALGARY — Take a 13-hour drive southeast to Portland and there are rivers of Kombucha, an actual functioning public transportation system, weather marginally less hostile to human life, excellent craft beers and stoner metal quartet Red Fang.
The four-piece band formed in the city in 2005 and return there when their busy touring schedule permits. Combining the better parts of mid-career Mastodon at the cusp of their turn to prog, the heavier and faster parts of Queens of the Stone Age, and High On Fire with the fat trimmed, their songs max out at five minutes. In the nine years since their inception, they’ve played dream-come-true gigs with their spiritual forefathers in Orange Goblin and Kyuss Lives!, and after they touch down in Calgary for a two nights of sold out gigs at the Palomino, they start a tour with Swedish death-metal institutions In Flames and Opeth. Times are undeniably good.
Bandmates Aaron Beam (bass, vocals), John Sherman (drums), David Sullivan (guitar, vocals) and Bryan Giles (guitars, vocals) were friends in their city’s fertile milieu for a long time, and according to Giles, “starting a band together was a natural progression of being in the same musical community and sharing similar musical taste.” So they began. After releasing an EP with the small Montana independent label Wantage USA and their first album with L.A-based label/management company Sargent House (who is also responsible for releases by Boris, Deafheaven and Chelsea Wolfe), “we wrote and recorded Murder the Mountains,” their second LP, “without a label. Relapse passed on the record at least twice before they gave in to continual pressure from our manager and our producer. Squeaky wheel gets the grease!”
That producer, by the way, was Chris Funk from indie rock quintet The Decemberists. Apparently everybody knows everybody in Portland, regardless of genre!
Once on Relapse, they released 2013’s Whales and Leeches, their most accomplished album to date, then embarked on another round of touring and unleashed a couple of EPs. Ever the loving citizens of their hometown (though aware of its reputation as a liberal utopia), their video for “Blood Like Cream” featured Fred Armisen of IFC’s sketch show Portlandia, a video that concerns beer-drinking zombies attacking the loveable dive bar known as the B Side Tavern in the Burnside neighbourhood. According to both Red Fang and Yelp.com, the bar is renowned for its friendly staff, tongue-in-cheek graffiti (“head bands should be used as a means of choking the life out of the hipsters wearing them,” reads one) and strong drinks. The association isn’t unintentional: the latter informs much of Red Fang’s output, as they’ve got a reputation as a hard-drinking party band that Relapse’s press agents aren’t taking great pains to dispel (read: playing up). Their website even includes a ‘Chug Beers With Red Fang’ flash game, something to play once Destiny gets boring. Though they freely admit, “if you love puns and getting punched, drinking with us is for you!” they concede that “we’re mellowing out in our old age, so normally we’re pretty laid back.”
Part of laying back means enjoying what Portland has to offer and Giles highly recommends that visitors take a hike up Mount Tabor, “a mellow trip offering a nice view of the city if the weather is nice.” What he doesn’t mention that it is also an extinct volcano. You can’t even walk up a hill within the Multnomah county city limits without it being a little weird.
Red Fang are as exciting, vibrant, self-effacing and artistically gifted as the city they hail from, but with one important difference. Red Flag have only gotten better as their population….err, “audience” has grown. That’s rare for a band. Sure, they’ve mellowed out in their ‘old age,’ but if cutting down on PBR results in an album like Whales and Leeches the imagine what would result of being teetotal, militant straight-edgers. They’ll never be for everybody, because even the best heavy music isn’t universally beloved, but they can and likely will become as big as the bands that have influenced them. Then everybody in their hometown can say how much they preferred them back before they were cool.
See Red Fang at the Palomino Smokehouse and Bar on Friday, October 11 and Saturday, October 12 with Shooting Guns and Chron Goblin. Both shows are sold out.AB, Alberta, Palomino, Red Fang