In the interest of full disclosure, I feel compelled to mention that I own a Red Fang koozie. Emblazoned with the Portland, Ore., metal quartet’s logo and the skull of what appears to be a sabre-toothed chipmunk, it’s an appropriate souvenir from a band whose members mostly used to play in a group called Party Time. Red Fang’s 2009 debut was no less bacchanalian, a rollicking, suds-soaked meeting of Black Sabbath and Black Flag. Arguably, that record was overshadowed by Red Fang’s hilarious and popular video for “Prehistoric Dog,” which centered on a LARP-style donnybrook between the band members (clad in beer-can armor) and slender, teenage mages in a municipal park.
There’s no danger that Red Fang’s follow-up, Murder the Mountains, will be eclipsed by a music video, no matter how clever it is. The album is a giant leap forward: The ambitious title and beautiful cover art by Orion Landau (imagine Georgia O’Keeffe painting Lovecraftian Ancient Ones) are only the first indicators that the band is taking its music, if not itself, more seriously this time around. The riffs on “Wires” aren’t merely heavy; the U.S. Surgeon General should classify them as morbidly obese. Luckily, the band doesn’t sacrifice melody for the sake of heft. The catchy hooks and crackling guitars are so enthralling that it’s almost redundant when bassist Aaron Beam and guitarist Bryan Giles repeat the word “succumb” during the final two minutes of the song.
Red Fang also displays its knowledge of proto-metal, invoking acts like Dust via the hard-charging velocity of “Hank is Dead,” and Captain Beyond through the never-indulgent psych flourishes of “Painted Parade.” Debts to more modern bands are discernable on the Melvins-esque sludge-stirrer “Throw Up” and the Kyuss-like desert rocker “Number Thirteen.”
Despite its reverence for genre, Red Fang’s fuck-fashion attitude applies equally to heavy metal. A band worried about being labeled “false metal” wouldn’t have the stones to hire The Decemberists’ Chris Funk to produce the album. Don’t worry, it doesn’t sound like R.E.M.’s Murmur, and the only song with a nautical theme is a doom-y number called “The Undertow.” Funk’s production allows Red Fang to show off Smaug-sized riffage as well as sophisticated songwriting chops. If the band’s self-titled album was best exemplified by a scruffy little koozie, Murder the Mountains should be represented by a jewel-encrusted chalice—filled to the brim with cold, cheap beer.