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Black Tusk rises from the swamps

Southern Discomfort



At this point it's probably beyond trite to mention that the Internet has made the world a smaller place. New trends and regional scenes don't bear as many geographical marks as they did once upon a time. Look at a band like The Stooges: It's hard to imagine that sound coming from anywhere other than some dirty, industrial Midwestern city. On the flipside, if some kid in Miami downloads a Darkthrone album and decides to start a one-person black-metal band, the shrieking vocals and shitty production aren't going to conjure sandy beaches and bikinis. It'll sound dark and cold — you know, Scandinavian.

This is a roundabout way of saying that Black Tusk sounds like where they're from. Coming from Savannah, Ga., they carry the major hallmarks of a Southern metal band — detuned guitars and sludgy riffs. They also sound quite a bit like Kylesa and Baroness, the other two well-known metal bands from Savannah. All three employ thick chords, militant vocals and guitars tuned low (maybe standard tuning doesn't fare so well in all that humidity), and I imagine those are the attributes Black Tusk references in their self-described "swamp metal." But where Baroness ventures into proggy noodling and Kylesa has tipped a hat to indie rock as of late, Black Tusk's albums are taut and without frills.

More threads tie it all together: Baroness' John Baizley designs occasional album art and T-shirts for all three bands, so there's a visual aesthetic that binds this pocket of musicians, too. All told, it's been a rare thing for a place to look and sound distinct in the Internet Age — at least not some place that hadn't already cemented its reputation.

Black Tusk's latest, Set the Dial, is currently hyping machines in the metalosphere, though it's not a major departure from what the band's been doing for the past six or seven years. The power trio melds hardcore punk and stoner metal, and while the results can occasionally get a little samey, it's been a convincing statement of intent. If anything has changed with this latest record, it's that the three-piece loosened up just a smidge and leaned into a groove. There's plenty of low-string chugging and Satan references — the top two boxes on any metal checklist — but the triple-vocal shout-alongs let the punk influences bubble closer to the surface. And while Black Tusk dips into slow-to-medium tempos here and there, most of the time the pace is brisker than that of their dirgier Southern metal contemporaries.

Take Louisiana doom-slayers and — until earlier this week, Black Tusk tourmates — Thou, for example.

The thick sludge and world-crashing-down sound immediately peg Thou's origins. This is NOLA metal through and through — think Crowbar but much more suffocating and bleak. The four-piece spent the past few years posting most of their prolific catalog for free on, and if that URL didn't make it obvious enough, the band wears its home base and punk ethos like a badge.

"I think both cities have similarities, but they do their sound and we do ours," Black Tusk drummer James May explains via email in regard to New Orleans and Savannah. "Both sounds are native to climate, crime, attitude and pride, as well as other various struggles that go on in the South."

A lack of pretension is what makes this a pretty sweet touring package — a package that, despite Thou's recent departure, still includes MonstrO (featuring ex-members of Torche and Bloodsimple). It's a simple formula originated in places that tend to keep their metal fairly straightforward. "That's what makes a package tour cool sometimes," says May. "It's cool when you can go see a show and see three different ways to interpret a metal sound."

And it's delivered in vintage Our Band Could Be Your Life style: Get in the van, fuck some shit up, sleep on some floors, repeat.


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