Black Tusk keep the home grill fires burning on ‘Set the Dial’

You have to love a band that compels you to drink beer and grill large quantities of meat the moment you hear their music. I feel like a broken record saying that about Savannah, Ga., sludgers Black Tusk because I’m pretty sure I write that every time I discuss this filthy, fun trio, but whatever. It fits the band and it’s 100 percent true.

The band has had a fairly prolific past couple of years. They released their barn-burning, drop-dead awesome Relapse debut “Taste the Sin” in the spring of 2010, and that record always will claim a soft spot in my heart because the week leading up to my wedding, every time I had to jump in the car and go take care of something for the event, that album went with me. Awwww. This year, Relapse re-released the band’s kick-ass 2008 first full-length “Passage Through Purgatory,” originally released by Hyperrealist. Now here we are, with 2011 nearing its conclusion – hey wait, it’s Oct. 21, 2011. Isn’t the world supposed to end today? – and we have a brand new platter from the band that maintains the heavy, muddy goodness we’ve come to expect, but they also pour in some more Southern rock influence than ever before. Got your bottle opener ready?

“Set the Dial” doesn’t quite have the intensity of their first two records, but what they lack in savagery this time around, they make up for in laid-back, simmering thrashing. It’s a bit more easy-going of a record, but don’t mistake that as meaning the album isn’t heavy. It is, and it’s still pretty nasty, and the fellows sound tighter and looser than on any of their previous work. This album, recorded with legendary producer Jack Endino (Soundgarden, High on Fire), sounds like it was crafted with a plan in mind that wasn’t set to stone and could be changed on a dime if that’s where their whims took them. That gives these songs unpredictability and energy not found on their other albums, and while it doesn’t always lead to better songs, it does keep things fresh and exciting. There also is a notable distribution of vocal duties among all members – guitarist Andrew Fidler, bassist Jonathan Athon, drummer James May – and while they always took turns yowling/shrieking out the messages, there’s pretty much equality now. It’s pretty cool to hear them constantly trade verses.

“Brewing the Storm” kicks off the album, and it’s an unassuming, get-your-ass-ready instrumental that leads you into “Bring Me Darkness,” where the dudes yowl “666” and promise destruction and unfathomable horror. It’s funny, though, that any time the band drops the man-downstairs references, they always come off as tongue-in-cheek and never sinister. It makes you smirk more than anything, and I don’t mean in a mocking way. It’s fun, damn it. “Ender of All” has a stoner thrash vibe and really rocks your bones at times, but it goes on about a minute too long for my taste. I think it would work better shorter, but what do I know? “Mass Devotion” has that swampy, Southern rock edge, where the shrieked vocals are balanced by dark, mean speaking behind them; “Carved in Stone” bleeds doom and ill intent, especially when you hear the barked line, “Time is up/There’ll be nowhere to run!”; “Resister” begins with picked acoustics and sounds like it’ll ease you on gently, but it’s a ploy, and eventually their mucky thrashing mauls you; and “Growing Horns” has power metal-style lead lines, almost as if they’re channeling early Iron Maiden, and it’s one of those most backyard-bash-ready killers that’ll get the authorities called to your home after it incites rowdiness.

All in all, I really dig “Set the Dial” and surely will give this plenty of playing time in the future, but I’d rank it a step below “Taste the Sin.” It’s more of a grower, where you have to take some time to feel out the rough edges and get used to the humid environment. It also should be noted John Dyer Baizley (of Baroness fame) handled the artwork again, and as expected, it’s a pretty cool looking piece. It actually reminds me a bit of a Japanese album cover, the way the whole thing is set up. So I’m off to the grocery store for some brews, because now I’m thirsty from having written this. I blame you, Black Tusk.

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