The loss of a fellow human being is one of the hardest things to deal with in life and when a band loses one of its members, it can take a toll on the very existence of the band. Georgia based sludge band Black Tusk recently endured such a tragedy when founding member Jonathan Athon passed away back in 2014. The band however, has soldiered on to release their fourth full length titled ‘Pillars of Ash’, a high energy sludge, hardcore crossover record that contains some of the last recorded work of their fallen comrade. Black Tusk tread a path that blurs the lines between hardcore punk and sludge, producing music that has equal parts punk attitude and equal parts groovy sludge.
The term preferred by the band to describe their music is swamp metal and this is a term that is befitting of their thick sludgy tone. Unlike other contemporary sludge acts, Black Tusk do not meander about with the sludge tone. Rather the music makes one want to get rowdy in a slam pit and pump one’s fist in the air. The opener ‘God’s on Vacation’ has strong anthemic chorus that shows the Black Tusk’s love for hardcore.
Monotony, which is a pitfall faced by many hardcore bands is overcome here with the help of thick sludgy tones and fresh riffs. The dual vocals work comprises of gnarly growls and banshee like shrieks and together they provide a nice variety in the tracks. Never for a moment do Black Tusk let the excitement in the music die. Even with the mid paced sections, the riffs constantly keep the listener grooving and headbanging. When the band gets into sludgier territories with tracks like ‘Black Tide’ and ‘Still Not Well’, the groove is immediately addictive. The foot stomping rhythm makes it hard not to lose oneself and the riffs manage to pack a strong punch.
Now, it’s difficult to analyse this album without taking into consideration, the circumstances surrounding the band during its conceptualization. So, it is surprising to see Black Tusk soldier on, only seeming more pissed off and angrier than before, with the only soft moments coming from the piano outro in the final few seconds of the album. Perhaps the best way to honour a fallen comrade is by doing what the band does best, i.e. make tight, uncompromisingly heavy hardcore, sludge metal crossover.