As a fan of this band I was completely overwhelmed by the passing of bass player Jonathon Athon. From 2005 Black Tusk had played the murkiest of punk and 2014 could have been the end, but its testimony to the friendship that “Pillars of Ash’ has been released. It’s been a long time since the ‘Set the Dial’ release in 2011 but given everything that’s gone on its amazing that we have a new album, let alone one that, as far as I’m concerned, is a milestone in straight up punk. Sure we have the sludge and drone references, as well as the swamp metal references from bands from Georgia, but this is straight up, no nonsense hardcore punk.
This album has all of the anger and frustration of old fashioned punk mixed up with heavy distorted guitar. The mix of the album gives the impression of three musicians in a room playing live. The recording is open and honest. I have no doubt that this band could walk out of the studio to the nearest stage and reproduce the same quality and sound that covers this entire recording. This release is deep without being dark, but it’s fast and unrelenting.
From the opening song, ‘Gods on Vacation’ it’s clear that Black Tusk are on a mission. As we blast through, ‘Desolation of Endless Times’ and ‘Bleed on your Knees’ it’s apparent that these guys have been through a hard time and are still coming to grips with many things that are clearly on their minds. There is no scream for sympathy here though and the solace comes from the music, which is brutal. But it’s the fourth track, ‘Born of Strife’ that demands the replay button. This is old school punk, with all the intensity of thrash, and it’s everything in the blender together. This is a huge nod to the passing of Athon and what a send-off. Hardcore punk at its very best. Unforgiving and reckless.
‘Damned in the Ground’ and ‘Beyond the Tide’ keep the tension high and it’s an aural onslaught. The guitar breakaways and riffs have never sounded better from these guys. As dirty and grimy as it’s always been but it’s just gruelling and only dips to drive on again and again. ‘Black Tide’ and ‘Still not well’ are both great tracks, even heavier, distorted and sludgier than what has gone before. ‘Walk Among the Sky’ is the soundtrack for a riot. It’s just a nod to all of the 1990s crossover music thrown together with hardcore punk. Unbelievable track and the cause for at least two speeding fines this week.
The album rounds out with the heavy bass infused, ‘Punk Out’ and ‘Leveling’ which complete a great track listing. ‘Punk Out’ is a straight up punk classic and ‘Leveling’ starts with a simple riff that builds and drives into more high speed intensity. As a fan of the might of Black Tusk I’m proud to have the opportunity to review this album. I had put myself in the position of not going easy on the band because when you review you need to be open and honest. But this is one of the hardest, most unrelenting albums I have heard for a long time. It’s intense, driven and totally unforgiving. If this helps the band heal and repair then all the better but this is just uncompromising music, best played loud for the neighbours to celebrate the rebirth of Black Tusk. Although Athon is no longer with us he lives on in this recording and Pillars of Ash is not just a reminder of his legacy but a chance for lifelong friends to say their goodbyes in the best way possible.
Great album from a truly inspiring band. Pillars of Ash by Black Tusk is a timely reminder that music is more than just a way of making coin. It’s about living and remembering and the band have produced a classic. Check it out.
Reviewer Craig Grant