2013’s Whales and Leeches saw Red Fang moving towards a sharper, more aggressive sound, and its clear from the opening moments of Flies, the first track of Only Ghosts, that the band have continued their progression towards angular, aggressive riffs. Eschewing the long, drawn out chords of many of their stoner/sludge contemporaries, Only Ghosts tends to function around punchier, sharper guitar lines, although the massive outro of album closer Living in Lye proves Red Fang can still hold it down with the stoner rock elite. Underpinning the album is the constant, menacing rumble of Aaron Beam’s fuzzed out basslines, which give tracks like No Air a relentless forward motion. Meanwhile, uncomfortable grooves on Cut it Short and The Deep lock in to guitar lines and showcase drummer John Sherman’s obvious talent.
For returning fans, Only Ghosts is certainly darker and perhaps more aggressive than anything Red Fang have done before. This is never more evident than in the album’s single releases; gone are the catchy, chorus-oriented rock’n’roll party anthems of 2009’s eponymous debut and 2011’s Murder the Mountains. As a listener, like many others, who was introduced to Red Fang through the instantly memorable Prehistoric Dog, its hard not to feel nostalgic for the band’s older material, and excepting a few moments of self indulgent repetition, such as the outro of Shadows, Only Ghosts definitely lacks the anthemic quality of Red Fang’s earlier music. In fact, it would be hard to call many of the melodies on the album catchy at all, and the lyrics themselves feel somewhat forced, almost verging on painful in some moment of far-too-obvious rhyme.
On the other hand, Only Ghosts can be framed as the latest chapter in Red Fang’ musical progression, and it would be unfair to suggest that Only Ghosts is wholly inferior to the band’s earlier work. In fact, it is by far the most complex of the band’s albums so far. As such, while ‘singles’ like Flies left me unmoved, the heavier, sludgier tracks on the album are wonderfully erratic and unpredictable, providing a far more rewarding listening experience. Its great to hear a band who are usually pigeonholed within the stoner/sludge genre moving away from the confines of the pentatonic scale and playing something a bit more experimental. The absolute standout track of the album is The Smell of the Sound, which demonstrates Red Fang’s songwriting intelligence, moving into totally unexpected musical territory at every turn, whilst the startling twists and on-edge melodies of I Am a Ghost keep the listener engaged.
Ultimately, Only Ghosts does feel lacking in comparison to some of Red Fang’s earlier work – its certainly deficient in terms of catchy melodies, big hooks and rousing choruses. Whilst it might disappoint some existing fans, the trade off is an album that is a far more complex and intelligent listening experience.