By Ashley Zimmerman
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The Mayhem Festival has a rep as a hypercharged day with an energy drink sponsor and core radio-rock acts like Godsmack, Disturbed, and Trivium, but one of the tour's new additions, Red Fang, is much more like some Pabst Blue Ribbon-guzzling dudes next door.
Musically, the Portland band's recently released Murder the Mountains also proves to be an atypical approach to the current state of metal. It carries itself on grime-coated guitar riffs, backed by haunting vocals, sung as if channeled from the grave of Alice in Chains' Layne Staley. Grounded largely in chord progressions that resemble Black Sabbath's, the record also dips into Southern rock, often with dramatic buildup to grandeur, all the while retaining ownership to a sound that is its own. Think of the simplicity and catchiness of the Wipers sloshed on 36 beers and having a sloppy makeout session with Queens of the Stone Age while sharing a joint with Mastodon.
Beer proves to be an integral part of nearly everything the band does, including photo shoots, blog posts, and music videos. For its song "Prehistoric Dog" from its first, self-titled album, the band was dressed in full suits of armor made entirely of discarded beer cans, enough to make any LARPer lord of lightning bolts wet themselves. The process was less-than-glamorous.
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"We went around town collecting cans," guitarist Bryan Giles recalls. "We obviously got some of the cans from our own homes, but we ended up getting like 4,000 cans for the suits. We washed them out because a lot of them were from bars. God knows what's in there — rotten fruit; some of them were used as spit cups; it was pretty gross. We washed them all out and cut them all up for raw materials. They turned out pretty impressively, I thought."
After being signed to Relapse Records in September 2010, Red Fang decided to take things up a notch for its next music video, for the song "Wires," the first single from Murder the Mountains.
Taking the beerbarian brutality a degree further, they affixed a full-frontal battering ram to a 1979 Impala station wagon and proceeded to obliterate piles of household items. The list of things to smash was too long, with only a handful making it to the video, which includes gallon jugs of milk, mannequins, watermelons, and hundreds of glasses filled with champagne. Giles was a little disappointed with the exclusion of one particular item.
"While we were doing other shots around town, we definitely thought of things that would be fun to kill," he says. "We saw somebody ride by on one of those double-tall bikes, and everyone instantly was like, 'We gotta kill those!' We hate those things; they're ridiculous. We ended up getting a couple of those things to smash, and we didn't get to. It ended up being too sketchy because they're so much taller than the car, it could easily come through the window. We definitely killed more stuff than what made it in the video."
Unsurprisingly, this sort of bizarre carnage has begun to attract an equally strange group of fans. Give due credit to the song "Hank Is Dead," which is on Adult Swim's Metal Swim, released September 20, 2010, a compilation of rare or unreleased songs from "the heaviest bands in existence," including Jesu, Isis, Torche, Boris, Zoroaster, and Pelican. Giles admits he is a longtime fan of some of the more ridiculous cartoons that make up the core of Cartoon Network's late-night programming.
"I'm a bartender, and I'm up late," he says. "It's perfect — I get to get my cartoons in. I'm a huge fan of Family Guy; I'll watch that show over and over again. On Adult Swim, I like that and American Dad. Robot Chicken too."
As a newcomer to the Mayhem Festival, Red Fang gets the daunting start time of 2:30 p.m. on the Jägermeister side stage on every date. Giles has embraced the change: "It's a different experience, that's for sure, playing in the middle of the day, out in the sun, but it's been cool."