Album Review

Black Tusk - Pillars of Ash

Released January 29, 2016
Lisa Sanchez
When you expect to listen to "just another metal album" and get Black Tusk's Pillars of Ash it's like finding out Santa is real as an adult. Black Tusk strip all the tired shit that that the genre leans on and blends the best aspects of thrash, doom, punk and hardcore into one tremendously pissed off and controlled release.
Pillars of Ash is a beautiful combination of things to me. The album is sludgy without being indecipherable, thrashy without losing depth, and groovy while remaining filled with punk inspired rage. As soon as I heard the fuzzy guitars and raspy vocals in the opening song, "God's on Vacation" I knew Black Tusk was going to take me on a trippy headbanging mindfuck  of a god time.
It's only fair to note that Black Tusk's killer album is marred by tragedy. After a motorcycle accident, singer/bassist Jonathan Athon passed away in November 2014 while in a medically induced coma. After suffering immense brain damage, the family complied with his wishes to be removed from life support. Considering Athon died in the middle of recording Pillars of Ash it's miraculous that the rest of the band, guitarist/vocalist Andrew Fidler and drummer Jamie May, were able to go on without him to make their strongest work yet.
More than anything, Pillars of Ash has the kind of straight forward no bullshit spirit that only Motorhead can invoke. The album starts off with rolling guitars and vocals that sound like they're coming from the other end of a subway tunnel with "Desolation in Endless Times" and continues to gallop toward destruction for the next 34 minutes. The sound quality isn't terrific, but it's really not supposed to be. You get three dudes who made an album that sounds like it crawled out of a gutter and puked all over your new boots. Which is exactly how it's supposed to sound.
The breakneck tempo is maintained throughout Pillars of Ash, reaching fevered pitch on "Born of Strife" and "Walk Among the Sky" which are just straight up circle pit songs made for the sweaty masses. However, the record is far from one note. Black Tusk, both overtly and subtly, conjure an ecstatic amount of sounds and genres. "Punkout" is the band's most standout punk track (both in title, lyrics, and delivery), but it doesn't feel like mimicry. Black Tusk grew from the alt punk scene of the south and they won't let their roots go easily.
Just when you think you've got Pillars of Ash pegged, Black Tusk lay some dirty doom metal licks on you with "Still Not Well" then turn around and smack some serious hardcore breakdowns and beats on you with "Leveling." The whole album ebbs and flows into different subgrenres of dirty rock and roll. The band has dubbed themselves "swamp metal" due to their humid hometown of Savannah, Georgia and it is the most apt descriptor for the band. Despite all the genres they pull from, there is a constant churning undercurrent of gritty southern metal that resonates throughout the album.
In the end, I couldn't pick a favorite track off of Pillars of Ash. Some had better guitar, better vocals, or a faster pace, but they all bleed into your ears differently. Considering the hardship the band had to face, they picked themselves up and delivered a tremendous album. Go ahead, wade into the swamp metal.