From the wreckage of failed punk bands, the southeastern USofA brings us yet another powerhouse in the sludge/stoner/doom metal category– Black Tusk and their sophomore release Passage Through Purgatory. If it seems like I compare bands to Baroness and Kylesa a lot.. well, it’s because I really enjoy those bands immensely, but also because I feel the comparison is warranted. In this case, the similarities go just a little further beyond musical style– John Dyer Baizley, singer and artist for Baroness, also does the art that graces Black Tusk’s albums. At this point I feel I should abandon my attempts to relegate the headquarters for this particular genre of music to one location of the world. (Admittedly, I hold a soft spot in my heart for the Dirty South, being that I hail from there.) To be fair, we get excellent sludgy goodness from all corners of the earth. It’s a little undeniable though that this geographical locale pumps out more than most.
I broke one of my own rules with this album, and did a little research about the group before listening to it. Generally I like to go into new musical experiences with absolutely no preconceptions about what I’m going to hear, as I feel that reading other reviews and information beforehand sometimes makes for a less than stellar impression. I have to say though, that upon researching this group a little, I was really anticipating giving the album a listen. To my great relief, I certainly was not disappointed. All of the elements are there, the ones that I continually point out, because they really are the cornerstones of this type of music. Massive drum beats. Heavy, driving guitar parts. Growling vocals. However, Black Tusk have managed to weave their punk rock roots into all of this to create something refreshing and absolutely filthy all at the same time.
It is apparent from the very beginning of the album what is different about these tracks and really, all of the group’s music. It isn’t that sludge metal can’t be fast but to me, it is oftentimes fast in a more “metal” way. By this I mean, you know.. bitchin’ solos, more complex guitar parts that carry the song forward with their composition. I’m not by any means trying to say that the members of Black Tusk are any less talented than any other band because there aren’t a lot of fancy guitar riffs on this album, but there’s no mistaking that token punk sound. Power chords. A LOT of power chords. That can get boring after a while, especially if it’s track after track with nothing to break it up, but several of the tracks (for instance, “Prophecy One By One” and “Fixed In The Ice”) start out with more varied guitar parts that eventually meld into or give way to the hard and fast chords.
Not every song on the album is so overtly a tribute to punk rock. The band does create a few sort of “classic” sludge sounding tracks– the album closes out with “Fatal Kiss,” a slightly more down-tempo number, which is also a bit less growly with the vocals. “Interlude,” an instrumental track, provides another somewhat slower reprieve from the constant onslaught of loud and fast that the rest of the album provides. I do feel that the album as a whole could have done with a few more breaks like this, something to mix it up just a little but all in all, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It has been said that there is no accounting for taste when it comes to anything I like, but if you’re in the mood to throw something new into your usual playlist, I highly recommend Black Tusk. I’ll go ahead and say you’re welcome, because you will thank me for it.