Portland, Oregon quartet RED FANG have established themselves as one metal's more engaging acts. The infectious stoner metal contained on a trilogy of killer full-length records, starting with 2011's "Murder the Mountains" and ending with 2016's "Only Ghosts", coalesced with energetic live performances and an everyman aesthetic endearing them to audiences that just wanted to headbang to some powerful riffs free of any pretension or over-the-top imagery.
No one would have faulted RED FANG if they had stayed in their very comfortable lane on their latest album, and first in nearly five years, "Arrows". It's a testament to the chemistry of the band's lineup, which has remained unchanged since its 2005 formation, that endeavors to explore different sounds on the new record and travel down some darker paths turned out as successfully as they did. The riffs are still overflowing and there is still plenty of compulsory headbanging to be done, but the overall mood is more exploratory and more ominous.
The album begins with "Take It Back", a two-minute intro consisting primarily of a haunting rumble from bassist/vocalist Aaron Beam and a disembodied-sounding vocal howl that leads into the crunchy stoner dirge of "Unreal Estate". The production has a murky layer of dirt and distortion that remains present throughout the majority of the record. The result is as if the band was indulging in listens to older MELVINS albums for inspiration on how best to dig into the trenches of thick sludge. The rumbling bass lines and the dives into the muck continue into the title track, with guitarist/vocalist Bryan Giles and guitarist David Sullivan packing layers of fuzz into their instrumentation, and hearty bellows that are the most sinister vocal performances to be found in the band's discography.
RED FANG proves to be adept at making just enough pivots and tension escalations during these early tracks to avoid repetitive sluggishness. The bar remains high on similar tracks throughout the record such as "Fonzi Scheme"'s swarming stomp (featuring a wonderfully layered set of string arrangements from guest violinist Patti King and guest viola player Kyleen King, both themselves members of The Portland Cello Project) and "Days Collide"'s slow-burning brood. There is still plenty though on "Arrows" to reward long-time fans who are in need of the band's trademark energetic rockers. Short-burst thrashers such as "My Disaster" and "Rabbits in Halves" are furious tension relievers coming in the wake of the dirges that lead into them. "Two High" is a rowdy display of stoner metal thunder and engaging chord progression. "Anodyne" has a catchy shout-along vocal that is boosted by the biggest-sounding riff of the record. Drummer John Sherman gets a moment to shine as well with some raucous drumming during the brief interlude of "Interop-Mod".
RED FANG does an admirable job with the more experimental risks they take on "Arrows". The result is an album that is the most purely heavy of their career, while still retaining just enough of their long drawn infectious blueprint to please long loyal fans.