Murder The Mountains, the sophomore release for Portland hard rockers Red Fang — their first for Philadelphia-based Relapse Records — is a quantum leap forward for the band. While their eponymous 2009 debut, featuring ace punk-metal numbers like “Prehistoric Dog,” packed plenty of punch, MTM is a more organic, fully realized effort in which the band’s musical influences are assimilated into a cohesive and inviting, song-oriented package.
The disc’s lead-off track, the grungy, churning “Malverde,” features the gruff vocals of Maurice Bryan Giles, who shares those duties throughout with bassist Aaron Beam, his more melodically-inclined counterpart. Nice dual lead guitars here from Giles and David Sullivan set the tone for the album, as the sound veers toward an early Soundgarden-style heaviness without overtly mimicking the grunge genre.
“Wires,” the next track, makes it a killer one-two opening punch for MTM. The song is a three-part, psych-metal future classic that deserves heavy airplay on the mythical, great hard-rock radio station that surely must exist somewhere. As Beam takes over the vocals and sings what sounds like a lament for an anonymous solider (“Mother’s not OK / She lights a candle for every day that you’re away”), the song takes an unexpected but welcome detour into an atmospheric, “spaghetti western" -styled middle section (complete with vibraphone!) that Ennio Morricone would love, before resolving itself in a majorly ass-kicking outro riff that Tony Iommi would be proud to claim as his own.
With producer Chris Funk (The Decemberists) at the helm, the rest of Murder The Mountains maintains a high standard of quality control, making this the increasingly rare album that rewards repeated listening and that hangs together as a sequence of songs, rather than a bunch of jams stuck together for commercial reasons. Songs like “Throw Up” and “Into The Eye” are gritty neo-grunge grinders, while “Hank Is Dead” and “Painted Parade” showcase a more melodic, downright poppy (without ever being cheesy) vocal sensibility mixed with punky guitar aggression that recalls the best moments of Queens of The Stone Age.
As it began, Murder The Mountains also ends with another one-two musical punch.
Penultimate track “The Undertow” is simmering, atmospheric stoner/psych metal a la Masters of Reality that suggests future musical directions for Red Fang, showing the band to be fearless when it comes to sonic exploration of areas that some of their cookie-cutter contemporaries are either too afraid or too talentless to enter.
“Human Herd,” meanwhile, is a strong and appropriate closer, its lyrics depicting someone (a fellow musician?) in the process of selling his soul to the devil (i.e. the corporate world): “You can’t protect him from his life,” sings Beam in the persona of The Man. “We’ll find a way to make you lie / He’ll be with us and never die / This is the end and you know why.”
Murder The Mountains, however, should not be the end but only the beginning of very great things for Red Fang. This is.an impressive record that laughs in the face of the “sophomore jinx” and, instead, sets its controls for the heart of the sun.