IN CASE you were curious, yes, Estacada has an airport. Well, it's less an airport and more a thin row of asphalt that narrowly slices through a swath of cleared-out land, tucked neatly behind a few upscale homes. Yet today there will be no planes landing on this barren strip. That's because Red Fang is here and they are about to destroy a few things. The stoner (but not quite stoner) metal (but not quite metal) band has rented out the entire Estacada airport for a Whitey McConnaughy-directed video shoot, and while I was sworn to secrecy as to what actually occurs in this video, let's just say it involves crash helmets, a battering ram, comedian Brian Posehn, and milk. Lots of milk.
The first time Red Fang crossed paths with McConnaughy it quite literally changed everything for the Portland act. The band was plucked from near obscurity when they teamed with McConnaughy for their "Prehistoric Dog" video, the lone single from their self-titled debut. Within days the clip went viral and cemented their legacy as metal's finest beer-guzzling, wizard-hating, beard-farming band that is not afraid to laugh at themselves. It was a video where heshers battled LARPers, where the phrase "Hey Gandalf, nice dress" entered our lexicon, and homemade beer-can armor (a concept soon copied by actual beer companies in Super Bowl advertisements) was dramatically fashioned. In five and a half minutes it made Red Fang a household name.
But maintaining that name comes at a price. Days before they were terrifying elderly Estacadians and laying waste to this tiny airport, Red Fang arrived back in Portland, bleary-eyed with slumped shoulders and exhausted from a lengthy trek on the Metalliance Tour (where they played with the likes of Saint Vitus, Helmet, Kylesa, and more). Unlike some of their peers, the men of Red Fang—Bryan Giles (guitar/vocals), Aaron Beam (bass/vocals), David Sullivan (guitar), John Sherman (drums)—are just that, grown-ass men with families, responsibilities, and the very tethers that become strained by life on the open road. To those outside of Portland, Red Fang is still a somewhat new band, despite its members being well into their 30s.
"We spent our youthful transgression era doing things because we thought we were going to change the face of music. But actually we were just annoying people. So now we're doing what we should have been doing when we were 21," explains Beam, who once worked at this very paper years and years ago. (He once fixed a note that read, "I eat trash" to my dog's back. I have never forgiven him for that.) He continues, "The only way things could be the way they are now is us having gone through what we already went through in our 20s. It's definitely way harder to tour having a kid and a wife at home, but it's not because I think, 'Oh man, I wish that I did this before I was married.' I can appreciate it more now. So, we deal with it, we're adults."
That said, these adults have a domestic headlining tour mere weeks from now, a European trip in June, and then finally an unlikely stint on the Mayhem Festival—oh, sorry, I mean the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival. It's no joke—for about six weeks this summer Red Fang will be touring alongside the horrifying ranks of Disturbed, the tattered remnants of Megadeth, and the military recruitment soundtrack that is Godsmack. Crowd-wise, it's a dramatic step up for Red Fang and an opportunity to introduce their music to a new audience, even if the band wasn't quite aware of the festival's headliners. ("Godsmack? Really?" was Beam's response.)
"I think if they don't like it—all the 14-year-old boys who aren't into it—they're just going to clear out or not show up until after we're done," says Beam. "We have a tendency, and I'm not trying to be cocky or anything, but I think that we are good at winning people over."
That is most certainly true. There is a barren honesty to the music of Red Fang. Without style or gimmick to shield them, the band instead relies on a refreshing simplicity in their battered, blue-collar hard-rock sound. Often lumped into the hazy classification of stoner rock, Red Fang avoids the sprawling complexities of contemporaries like Sleep and instead basks in the clarity of sheer unrelenting volume. (Or, in simple stoner metal vernacular: Red Fang is a one-hitter to Sleep's Volcano Vaporizer.)
This stylistic difference is most evident on the just-released Murder the Mountains, their first offering to the metal giants at Relapse Records. The sophomore album is a recording that achieves a level of unabashed amplification that is something to truly behold, ironic considering its producer, the Decemberists' Chris Funk, is best known for his less abrasive work. "He approached us first, which I thought was crazy," explains Giles. "I certainly wasn't going to be knocking on his door."
While the band's self-titled debut established the ethos of Red Fang, Murder the Mountains expands on their (ungodly loud) sound, finally giving the band a fleshed-out recording that accurately captures the fierce intensity of their abusive live sets. Those with the strictest view of what constitutes metal will likely scoff at the notion that Murder the Mountains is anything but hard rock, a classification that the band doesn't reject ("I like metal, but we're not a metal band," Giles explains). In its finest moments—"Hank Is Dead," "Painted Parade," "Number Thirteen," and lead single "Wires"—Murder the Mountains is an absolutely unrelenting exercise in concise rage, gnashed-teeth vocals, and a tinnitus-inducing level of volume. Which makes it difficult to fathom how this towering slab of monolithic heaviness collected dust while the band sought a suitable label to call home.
"We paid for it out of our own pocket and it was going to be a terrific keepsake if nobody picked it up," jokes Beam. "Even Relapse passed on us the first time around. I think Funk approached them and asked, 'What do you guys think about putting this record out?' And they were like, 'Meh.'" Wisely Relapse (which coincidentally now has a Portland office) came to their senses, eventually helping Murder the Mountains find its rightful place on record store shelves. This means that with the exception of short breaks and destructive video shoots, Red Fang won't stop until they are the last band standing.
"Just stick to it and everyone else is going to fall by the wayside," says Giles, as he explains the band's determined longevity. "Everyone's gonna eventually disappear and if you're still doing it, you're going to outlast everybody."