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.