In theory, Georgia’s Black Tusk is a band I should like more than I do. Admittedly I’ve lost touch with them and haven’t revisited any of their material recently, but previous experiences haven’t exactly compelled me to come back for more, despite never really being able to pinpoint what the problem is. They play a raucous style of punky, hard rocking sludge, doing so with a minimum of fuss and ample bursts of energy and ballsy aggression. Forming way back in 2005 and holding a hefty sack of EPs, splits and albums over their shoulders, Black Tusk have a new batch of tunes locked and loaded on their fifth LP, T.C.B.T., and second release without sadly departed founding member Jonathon Athon, who was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in 2014. Having smoothed the difficult transition with 2016’s Pillars of Ash, Black Tusk enter the next phase of their career. So with cautious optimism, I dive headlong into T.C.B.T.
After a rather forgettable spoken word intro, Black Tusk burst out the gates with a typical lack of subtlety, sounding musically tighter and more frantic than I recall. The thick, sludgy tones remain, but T.C.B.T. is heavily imbued with a freewheeling punk rock spirit to go with their piss and vinegar-fueled attitude. This raucous template is established and maintained throughout the album’s 42-minute duration, though the band mix-up their delivery through dynamic arrangements and anthemic bursts of melody. “Agali” is an addictive barn-burner, as venomous dual vocals collide with bruising rhythms and catchy, muscular riffs, not to mention oodles of testosterone and aggression. The energy across the board is palpable and the tight individual performances are indicative of the band’s veteran status and resilient dedication.
When Black Tusk nail their well-established formula there’s much to like about their no-frills, hefty and headbanging mode of attack. “Labrat” starts with tribal drum patterns through an ominous slow building intro, before exploding into a speedier territory, shifting gears subtly amidst hooky vocal trade-offs and knuckle-dragging grooves. It’s a killer tune through and through. The first half of the album features the stronger material, though the second half has its share of decent moments and solid song-writing. Penultimate song “Whispers” finds Black Tusk ramping up the speed and intensity in what I can imagine would whip the pit into an absolute frenzy in a live setting. They hit the mark more often than not on T.C.B.T. but struggle to consistently pen songs of the caliber of the stronger cuts here, despite never losing the plot or their blunt force focus and direction.
While I can’t wholeheartedly vouch for the album’s consistency regarding song-to-song quality, with several clear standouts rising above otherwise solid material, there are no outright stinkers present. And even considering the album’s more formulaic, primal roots, the material is at the very least enjoyable background music for a garage drinking session with good company. Solid is the word that often springs to mind and neck-snapping headbangers like the sledgehammer swinging sludge turned punkified riff-fest grooves of “Rest with the Dead” gets the head banging satisfyingly.
I honestly can’t fault Black Tusk’s dedication, work ethic or penchant for rocking punk-sludge anthems and I’ve certainly garnered short-term enjoyment from T.C.B.T. But the album’s longevity remains a slight concern I can’t shake regarding replay value and longer-term memorability. Still, avid Black Tusk fans should find plenty to enjoy here, while listeners after punky, street brawling sludge with a hardcore attitude, executed with drunken, aggro glee, may find deeper substance within. As is stands, T.C.B.T. is a solid rather than outstanding addition to the 2018 smorgasbord of metal releases.