Good evening and welcome to another monthly Beards and Checked Shirts Only Night here in the delectable confines of Digbeth, Birmingham. (One of) Portland, Oregon’s finest musical exports Red Fang are in town, primed and ready to deliver their gutsy, yet pop-hook-filled heavy metal onslaught to a sold out Temple; situated in the rafters of the excellent Institute venue just south of the city centre.
Hilarity ensues early on as your humble scribe and photographer in-chief Paul Butcher realise that none other than 911 are gracing the main stage with their presence downstairs. Yes, that’s right, 911 – as in the ’90s boyband flops who surely died a worthy death long long ago – have decided to once again sell their dignity, souls and disgraceful t-shirts to the devil in exchange for one last pay cheque courtesy of a raft of tittering and swooning 40-year-old women. The very sight of both the hen-nighting yummy mummies and dozens of unwashed, hobo-clothed stoners entering the same front door en masse and in harmony together is enough to reassure me that music will always have the ability to bring all walks of life together as one, however unfortunate the circumstances are.
After snaking our way through the Institute’s vast labyrinth of staircases and corridors and locating a vastly over-priced pint of luke-warm lager, we settle back to first experience another of Relapse Records’ sublime Portland-based acquisitions. Lord Dying are here to bring Thee Doom in the fast, thrashy and most apocalyptic of senses. Rollocking out of the gate like ‘Age of Winters’-era The Sword, but with more anger than a Wall Street stockbroker in 1929, their almost literal landslide of riffs thunders from the PA with density, finesse and neck-wrecking abandon. Human wrecking-ball frontman Erik Olson spits fire and fury through his stage-right mic whilst his guitar pumps out a mixture of Death and Carcass-esque fret-melting licks. Don Capuano’s bass-heavy chugs are deeply reminiscent of High On Fire’s Jeff Matz at his very best and Chris Evans’ sweet, high-end solos lie intricately in the wake of the hairy caveman thump of Olson’s rhythms. After experiencing Lord Dying live I would contend that you wouldn’t want this lot landing on your car but you would certainly want their gloriously heavy ‘Summon the Faithless’ record to land on your car stereo. A beefy brand new untitled song crushes with an ethereal, underworldly edge beneath its oceanic, cut-throat riffage, whilst the powering ‘What Is Not… Is’ remains an exhuming stomp through several death-doom graveyards. This is impressive shit already and we’re only on the opening act.
Many in the crowd are visibly as stoked to catch the supports tonight as much as the world-conquering headliners. Tearing straight into ‘Tripping Corpse’, So-Cal punk-rock heroes The Shrine certainly aren’t here to fuck around as they set about shovelling their boatload of party-hard fun right down our gullets. Court Murphy’s Rickenbacker is on fire tonight and his growling raft of vintage bass amp effects flood the room from bar to backdrop. ‘Worship’ cranks the ante ever further as the chin-stroking crowd finally begin to move both their heads and their hips to the insane amount of groove on offer. Frontman Josh Landau owns the stage; looking every bit like Phil Lynott, alive, well and decreased in age by around 40 years, he slams around the stage in a blaze of denim and leather, sizzling solos off left, right and centre. Murphy manages to keep the riffs a-flowing even as Landau solos away whilst drummer Jeff Murray hits like a rabid stoner playing for his final ever meal. ‘Bless Off’ and ‘Zipper Tripper’ up the pace to a frenzy, ‘The Duke’ is an inferno of lead guitar hero worship and ‘Laughing Lady’ strikes home in a triumph of bass smouldered sadness. Recent promo track ‘Nothing Forever’ is arguably the pinnacle of The Shrine‘s ode to the heroic past glories of acts like Black Flag and Zeke, setting this band apart from other simple power trios and into a whole new sphere of feel-good hard rock.
As if living proof were needed that if ye ask, ye shall receive, some crazed idiot at the front bellows “On The Grind!” with 5 minutes of set time left and the Californians admirably give up whatever their final number was going to be and duly oblige him one final request. The Shrine are surely destined for greatness and this performance was delivered with a stellar quality of almost headliner-up-staging proportions.
Red Fang may have a new record out but choosing to open with crowd favourite ‘Hank Is Dead’ immediately sets a good mood amongst the traditionally sleepy Brummie crowd. The tempo dips as they hit ‘Crows In Swine’ from the newer ‘Whales And Leeches’ material but as a cheeky few spliffs light up and a healthy mosh-pit breaks out at the front it very much becomes business as usual for this highly polished act. The crunching biker-rock anthems of ‘Dirt Wizard’ and ‘Throw Up’ from the acclaimed ‘Murder The Mountains’ album are greeted with an ecstatic response as the die-hards belt back out every word that echoes from Aaron Beam and Bryan Giles’ microphones.
Red Fang are like the suited n’ booted, professional man’s sludge metal act; polite, polished, courteous and neat in their executioners chops throughout. Drummer John Sherman hits his kit as gleefully as if he’s having a party on Mars whilst bassist Beam and guitarist Giles trade vocal offshoots like two chaffinches in a tree. Versus the show Red Fang put on at this very same venue over a year ago, the sound quality is vastly improved. Giles and David Sullivan’s guitar lines on the likes of ‘Number Thirteen’ are both growlingly formidable yet dazzling through their spectrum of notes at the same time.
It’s Red Fang‘s constant herky-jerk rhythm that compels them to their audience and yet it’s this trait that sets them back from the usual stoner/sludge norm. Not much new material remains on offer for the most part tonight which suggests a lesson learned that ‘Whales and Leeches’ hasn’t ignited audiences as much as the old tried and tested self-titled and ‘Murder…’ songs, but as Red Fang crash out of an hour-long set with ‘Blood Like Cream and ‘Wires’, it’s clear that this adoring crowd couldn’t care less. Returning to the stage for an inevitable romp through ‘Prehistoric Dog’ ensures that the mass of sweat, knotted hair and newly purchased Lord Dying t-shirts that is tonight’s audience leaves the room with grins upon their faces.
For £11 a ticket, this gig was terrific value entertainment from three superb US acts who all surely have long careers ahead of them. I’m not going to lie, missing out on seeing 911 perform their selection of cheese-infused mid-life-crises live on stage certainly put a bit of a downer on my experience tonight. But as long as the threat of stacking ASDA’s shelves forever lingers over their heads, I’ve no doubt they’ll come back round again very soon…
Scribed by: Pete Green
Photos by: Paul Butcher