There is at least one band out there who seem eternally content to fly the flag for gritty, swamp-laden rock. Black Tusk, the Georgian-based metallers revel in unleashing southern-style riffs the size of Kansas to the utter delight of metal fans the world over and here they return with an album that is as savagely beautiful as the artwork that graces its cover and as heavy as anything they have yet put their name to.
Opening track ‘brewing the storm’ is as apt a scene setter as you could wish for, a growing hum developing into a sublime riff that effortlessly recalls the heat, humidity and mosquitoes of the deep south, a feeling reinforced by the furious intro to ‘bring me darkness’ with its battle cry of “six, six, six, sick. Bring me darkness and thunder. My malevolent will.” Grabbing the listener by the proverbial and dragging them face-first into Black Tusk’s own heart of darkness. This is pure heavy metal, the simmering heat and stench of the swamps laid bare by Andrew Fiddler’s treacle-thick guitars, the adrenalin kept pumping by Jamie May’s relentless percussion and the whole thing tied together by the spit ’n’ sweat vocals neatly contributed by every member of the band. Upping the pace is ‘Ender of all’, a thrilling death trip across open country always urging the listener to “crank this fucker up!” It’s good advice and should be followed – Black Tusk sound their best at volumes designed to shake your home to its very foundations – anything else is simply not good enough. ‘Mass devotion’ shatters illusions via an echoing riff tinged with the art-prog of Mastadon that is slowly transmuted into a rumbling, slow burning work of sinister intent before segueing into the hardcore-infused ‘carved in stone’ that recalls the epic might of Botch on ‘anthology of dead ends’ with its churning riffs and throat wrecking vocals.
With no let up, ‘Set the dial on your doom’ appears amidst a flurry of percussion and Jonathan Athon’s throbbing bass to deliver a bolt of pure menace and misanthropy. Referencing mankind’s descent into a hell of their own making, it is a twisted, malevolent, beautiful track that is as black-hearted as it is prophetic. ‘Resistor’ relaxes things a touch with an almighty groove replacing the brightly burning intensity of the previous tracks for an instrumental that offers up a southern take on Karma to burn’s hypnotic, weed-fuelled tracks. ‘This time is divine’ comes roaring off the back of this – a gasoline-fuelled monster, it burns up the tracks and leaves you clinging on for dear life before the song slams straight into the back of the Sabbath-loving ‘growing horns’, a song that divides along schizophrenic fault-lines and ends as violently as possible before the band let fly with one final surging riff on the awe-inspiring ‘crossroads and thunder’ leaving you wondering exactly which devil this talented, invigorating band sold their souls too in exchange for riffs of this potency.
Black Tusk seem to be developing at a quite phenomenal speed. Already a band to watch out for over their previous three impressive outings, ‘set the dial’ is quite simply in another league. Indeed, at 34 minutes it packs in a quite remarkable degree of invention with no track serving as filler and no one idea outstaying its welcome. With variation and attitude in abundance, this is arguably a flawless album, a shining gem in Black Tusk’s swamp-muck encrusted crown and the finishing touch is the production – overseen by studio mastermind Jack Endino who showcases his skills here by rendering even the swampiest of riffs with just the right balance of grit and clarity. Top all this off with John Dyer Baizley’s truly stunning cover and you have an amazing work of metallic art comprising searing riffs, intelligent lyrics and memorable tunes. Black Tusk may well have just unleashed a genre benchmark.