Bands like Red Fang provide something of a challenge to critics. On one hand, their artistic direction has been so thoroughly explored by their predecessors that their music constitutes flattering imitation at best and shameless coattail-riding at worst. On the other, they certainly accomplish what they’ve set out to do—play some rough’n’ready hard’n’heavy rock’n’roll, or something along those lines. In that sense, this self-titled debut gets the job done.That might sound like damnation with faint praise, but such is more or less what Red Fang deserves. These Oregonians bill themselves as a cross between Black Sabbath and Black Flag, and the comparison makes sense if you think in terms of the Flag’s later, more rock-oriented output. The ever-so-slight West Coast punk feel that infects some of these songs (“Wings of Fang” for example) gives Red Fang a vaguely meaner, more embittered edge than many of their peers. By and large, though, these dudes rollick rather than rage, much in the matter of countless other throwback hard rock bands. And therein lies the problem; the scrappy blues-fuzz guitars, heavy-handed rhythms, and ragged half-sung-half-yelled vocals that Red Fang throw around all sound a mite too familiar for these ears. Again, it’s not that these guys aren’t competent—they just aren’t outstanding, and their by-the-numbers approach doesn’t help make up for their second-tier skills. I also get the sense that Red Fang are aware of the problem, which means that they occasionally slide into self-effacing kitsch—you can virtually see their ironic facial hair flapping around during the cowbell-driven intro to “Sharks.”
I’m usually a sucker for this kind of skuzzy, throwback rock/metal, and Red Fang definitely puts a smile on my face once in a while. As entertaining as they might be in the short term, though, I can’t get excited over them. If they emphasize their punk/SST influences a little more, they might manage to stick out the way Amplified Heat does with their classic-rock chops or Clouds does with their psychedelic heft. Until then, though, Red Fang will remain a pretty pedestrian example of their breed.