In 2012, Portland, Ore.-based Red Fang swung through Neurolux behind its most recent release, Murder the Mountains (Relapse Records, 2011), leaving an overflow audience sweaty and euphoric. Then, as now, it's full of seasoned performers who know how to whip up a crowd of moshers.
The band returns Thursday, Dec. 15, to Neurolux, this time on the heels of its fourth studio release, Only Ghosts (Relapse Records, 2016). The show is sure to be as ecstatic and muggy as the last, but beyond an excuse to thrash on Neurolux's linoleum floor, Only Ghosts is a mature album threading the needle between listenability and energy in a way few metal albums do.
If Red Fang has a sonic virtue, it's "coherence." Vocalists Bryan Giles and Aaron Beam don't scream so much as they howl and call. Giles' driving, melodic voice finds its counterpoint in Beam's savage groans on tracks like "Flies" and "The Deep," but not unerringly. In the Black Sabbath-esque "No Air," Beam grumbles through the noise of scratching guitars, "How did I end up here? / Watch my soul disappear / Down a hole." While the lyrics and sonic diffusion are fitting, they don't add up to one of the album's finer tracks.
Guitarist David Sullivan's opening riffs and beats by John Sherman give Only Ghosts an audible depth of influence. The sounds of Queens of the Stone Age are woven into the DNA of tracks like "Shadows" and "Cut it Short." Elsewhere can be heard echoes of Sabbath and Big Four bands like Metallica and Anthrax.
Only Ghosts is nevertheless a powerful statement for Red Fang's sound. Across the arc of the album, Sherman's drums leap ahead of the melody ("Cut it Short") or drag along behind it ("The Smell of the Sound"). When he's not howling lyrics from the beyond, Beam plays the bass guitar like he's trying to find just the right combination of frequencies to start an avalanche. Though at times the instruments sound like they're trying to escape the hands of tormentors, they swing back around to harmony.
At the end of the 2012 show in Boise, Red Fang members turned their phones on the audience, snapping pictures of a crowd snapping pictures back at them. It was a moment of appreciation and recognition. The band has long had a grasp on who its fans are, trading an endless stream of energy into devotion. With Only Ghosts, Red Fang has an album that sounds as vital and invigorating over headphones as it does onstage.