Black Tusk bid sad farewell to Athon, unleash explosive, fully energetic album ‘Pillars of Ash’

Photo by Angela Boatwright

Photo by Angela Boatwright

Unless you’ve been trapped at the bottom of the ocean, you’re aware the world was gifted by one final David Bowie record before his untimely passing last week. In everyone’s grief, there was this collection that painted as clear a picture as one will find of a person’s impending doom shared with the rest of the world. The fact he passed just days after its release made it hit even harder.

The metal world kind of has one of those releases as well with the arrival of Black Tusk’s fourth full-length “Pillars of Ash.” It is the first record to be released by the band since the tragic passing of their bassist/vocalist Jonathan Athon (his friends simply called him Athon), a release many thought we’d never see. It’s the final music Athon recorded with his bandmates and touring brothers, guitarist/vocalist Andrew Fidler and drummer/vocalist James May, making it a bittersweet, blissfully raucous record that sends their friend off in as spirited a manner possible. I know tragedy trends to make people look at things with different eyes and hear music with different ears, but this is a fucking killer record. If this is to be Athon’s musical last will and testament, he could not have gone out on a higher, more explosive note.

12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007}Black Tusk have been doing their thing a little over a decade now, unleashing their first full-length record “Passage Through Purgatory” in 2008. After a few split releases (with bands such as Fight Amp and The Holy Mountain), they found their way to current home Relapse and released their fire-breathing second record “Taste the Sin” (“Embrace the Madness” is an absolutely crushing track and one of my favorite in their whole run), and from there, it was on to “Set the Dial” a year later. The past five years, the band has been pounding the pavement, putting out smaller releases, and setting the stage for this crushing new record.

The record rips open with “God’s on Vacation,” a churning, menacing track that has Athon (the deep growler) and Fidler (the higher-pitched wail) trading vocal lines, while the band hits total demolition and delivers a chorus that will floor you. “Desolation of Endless Times” is punchy, catchy, and really heavy, with the vocals pulling back and forth and the pace thrashing. “Bleed on Your Knees” is riffy as hell and goes a little more the classic metal route, as the tempo chugs and chews, the song picks up speed, and the dust-up comes to a blistering end. “Born of Strife” has a filthy Southern rock groove to it, with the vocals spat out, the band hitting a hardcore-style fury, and some tasty guitar work burning to the finish. “Damned in the Ground” lets the notes hang in the air before it kicks into high gear. Athon howls away, with the track getting mucky and mean, and the last moments bursting before the cut bows out. “Beyond the Divide” takes a little time to get moving, but once it does, it blasts into bursts of speed, with the dual vocals striking hard and the raucous finish taking on a psychedelic edge.

“Black Tide” has drums bustling and bashing, with strong riffs leading the way and Athon’s growls belting you in the waist. Higher cries explode from Fidler, while swarming melodies rise amid fears of drowning. “Still Not Well” brings the psychedelic wonder back into the picture, with heavy crunch making up the bulk of the track, and more Southern smudge chaos arriving. This track settles its assault a bit, simmering instead of boiling and taking on a sinister groove. “Walk Among the Sky” is super fast, with the chorus stuttered with Athon belting the final word of each line along with Fidler. It’s smashing and guttural, with the final call of, “We are prepared to die,” feeling particularly pointed. “Punk Out” sounds exactly like its title indicates. It’s fast, there is a nice dose of D beat, and the whole thing has a dank basement blur to it. Closer “Leveling” lets the guitars go off, as the track explodes with power, and the assault makes you dizzy and confused. The band keeps up the intensity, giving it all the fire they have until the power slowly fades, and chilling pianos dress the final moments with a cold, drenching rain.        

Black Tusk live on touring and hopefully creating music in the future (Corey Barhort will take Athon’s place in the band). They’ll never be the same band they were with Athon, but their legacy has been cemented. I’ve long been a huge fan of this band, and it’s a little tough realizing this will be the final time we hear them in this form. But luckily we have these final moments this beast known as Black Tusk spent with Athon, and they sure as shit made them count.

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