I've been trying to write about this new Black Tusk album, T.C.B.T., all day, but keep procrastinating and listening to Black Sabbath instead. It feels fitting, and I know the boys would understand—Iommi’s shadow looms large in their low-slung riffs. There’s a comfort in those old chords, the kind of well-worn familiarity that is so often missing in a streaming-centric world where it’s almost infuriatingly easy to speed through eight new albums in a day without a single riff catching in your head. I discovered Black Sabbath through my dad, a good ol’ boy whose main interests were Southern rock, country music, moonshine, and guns (in varying order), yet still had a few Sabbath records tucked away in his collection beside the Outlaws and the Nuge. Thanks to that early exposure and many, many repeated listens, records like Master of Reality and Paranoid feel like old friends, which—despite their far more energetic, bastardized approach to heavy metal thunder—is exactly the way I feel about Black Tusk.
To be perfectly forthright: there's no way for me to cover this Savannah metal/punk/whatever the fuck trio with any shred of objectivity. We met back in 2009 or 2010, I can’t remember exactly when, but have been bonded by blood, dirt, and whiskey ever since. I spent years on the road with them as their merch person, slinging T-shirts and sleeping on floors, hauling gear and talking shit; I know their partners, their dogs, their quirks and life stories. I have their fallen brother (and founding bassist and vocalist) Jonathan Vincent Athon's initials tattooed on my arm in memory; I got it at his memorial in Savannah, where hundreds of his friends and family gathered to mourn his untimely passing (I wrote about that here). I know how much this band matters to them, and I know how hard it was for the other two founders, guitarist Andrew Fidler and drummer James May, to come back after Athon died. I know what went into this album, their first without him and with new bassist Corey Barhorst (and with Chris “Scary” Adams, who joined on second guitar after the recording wrapped up). How could I possibly judge its merits, or sift through to pinpoint its flaws?
I can still be honest, though. Black Tusk will fundamentally always be a live band; they’re electric onstage, and despite the best efforts of some pretty damn impressive engineers, the recording process has never managed to capture that lightning in a bottle. I think of them the way I used to think of Motorhead—sure, I’d throw on a record now and then when I’ve got a particular niggling riff stuck in my head, but the live experience was always where it was at. Luckily, they tour like motherfuckers, so said experience was never in short supply until recently, when a family situation necessitated their taking a hiatus from touring for several years.
Now that they’re back in the saddle, they have a lot to prove to fans who forgot, and a lot of new listeners to ensnare. The Georgia-focused “swamp metal” bubble of the mid-2000s has popped, and most of their then-peers have either evaporated—like Zoroaster and Kylesa—or changed so much as so be almost unrecognizable from their burlier beginnings, like Baroness and Mastodon. Black Tusk are the last metal punks standing from that scene, and T.C.B.T. (which stands for "taking care of Black Tusk," the band's enduring motto) feels like a mission statement, a two-finger salute to remind y’all that they’re still here, still bringing the darkness, and still taking care of business.
Unlike many other bands their age (they’re on their 13th year now, which feels like an omen), their distorted sludge ‘n’ roll sound hasn’t changed up all that much; if anything, it’s gotten more stripped down, and more in line with their punk roots, with the exception of a few spacier, noisier numbers like “Scalped” and “Rest with the Dead,” where Barhorst hauls out his keyboards and gets a little weird. I’m very interested to see how these new songs go over live—knowing them, it’ll be a lightning storm of swinging guitars and tangled long hair like always, with Athon’s ghost thrumming through the chords whenever shit gets really heavy.
As they told Noisey, ““TCBT is the culmination of two years of work and collaboration with the new lineup of Black Tusk. With a nod to our past and a step to our future, this record hits the gas from the rip and doesn’t let up until the end! We hope you and enjoy and we will see y’all on the road!”
Pour one out for Athon next time you find yourself in the company of Jim Beam; the other boys like shitty beer, so keep a few PBRs on hand if you catch Black Tusk rolling through your town—they just announced a whole grip of North American dates. You won’t regret it.
Listen to T.C.B.T. in its entirety below; it's officially out August 17 on a variety of formats, and you can order it directly from the label here.
Here are a few other things I've been digging this week, including a new track from grindcore OGs Terrorizer and an album premiere from Philly metalcore upstarts Downtrodder.
Grindcore legends Terrorizer have returned with another full-length salvo, their first since 2012's so-so Hordes of Zombies. They premiered a taster track, "Invasion," via Decibel earlier this week, and from what I'm hearing, this new joint will be far more aggressive and, yes, caustic than their other post-World Downfall output. All hail the old gods!
Philly newcomers Downtrodder tackle their hyper political lyrics with savage ferocity and charging metal-edged riffs. Though there are whiffs of Converge and Majority Rule to be found, they're not metalcore as mid-2000s pit antics, they're metalcore as in fuck you. Vocalist Jake Lucas' lyrics and hoarse roar zero in on white supremacy, religious hypocrisy, America's gun addiction, and the fight for reproductive freedom, delivered atop breakneck blasts of d-beaten punk and noodly asides. Their third EP, aptly titled
, is some seriously good shit (and is out 8/24 via War Fever Recordings).
This project from Swedish multi-instrumentalist Dagny Susanne (and drummer Martrum) churns out grandiose, 90s-inflected melodic black metal like it's nothing, and I'm particular enamored of Susanne's vocals—her voice rumbles out ragged, gruff, and fierce in demonic contrast to the music's more polished melodic core. This teaser track from her upcoming album, Lynx (, Lynx, (to be released on digipack CD on August 27 from Nigredo Records) is a tantalizing glimpse into what very well could be one of the year's finest straight up black metal records.
This witchy Australian trio may be new to the game, but they've got a firm grasp on the blunt intricacies of stoner/doom metal, and come armed with a secret weapon in the form of vocalist Lee Jowono, whose unearthly howl punches up the electric fuzz in the wickedest kind of way. Keep an eye on these lot.
This Belgian outfit peddles total fucking audio destruction, whirling together manic crust punk with serrated grindcore into a satisfyingly toxic mass of fast, ugly aggression. This is one of my favorite kinds of extreme metal crossover episodes—d-beats really do make everything better!
Maruta guitarist Mauro Cordoba, Full of Hell vocalist Dylan Walker, and Hungarian drummer Balázs Pándi of Merzbow and Keiji Haino unite in spastic noise to grind your fuckin' face off.
Kim Kelly is TCBT on Twitter.