Release Date: Jan 29, 2016
Record label: Relapse Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Heavy Metal
The latest album from Black Tusk has all the swampy, sludgy goodness listeners have come to expect, and if you don’t know the backstory, you might not know that it’s overshadowed by tragedy. After a string of splits and EPs, Black Tusk were hard at work on their first full-length in five years, the follow-up to 2011’s roiling Set the Dial. One November evening, the bassist and vocalist Jonathan Athon decided to take a break from recording and take his Harley through the cypress-lined streets of his native Savannah with his girlfriend Emily.
Pillars of Ash arrives with an unfortunate undertow of loss. A few weeks prior to Thanksgiving in 2014, Black Tusk bassist/co-singer/founding member Jonathan Athon was driving his bike through the neighborhood streets of his hometown Savannah when he was mortally struck by an elderly driver who ran a stop sign. After being put into a medically induced coma, it became quickly apparent that the resulting brain damage was too extensive for any possible recovery.
It's impossible to divorce this record from the tragedy of its context, to read Pillars of Ash as separate from grief. In late 2014, founding member Jonathan Athon passed away in a terrible road accident; for some time, it was unclear if the band would elect to continue to exist without him. Out of the profound mourning that the Savannah-based sludge metal band had to endure, the surviving members (guitarist Andrew Fidler and drummer James May) elected to release their final recordings with Athon, the record they were working on when a motorcycle accident claimed his life.Thus, this pillar is a headstone, and also a work of great love and camaraderie.
Sludge metal gets its name from its molasses tempo and heavy, dark instrumentation. On the new album from Black Tusk, Pillars of Ash, the weight of all that sludge unfortunately wasn’t an artistic choice: The record gets its crushing heft from the death of bassist Jonathan Athon, who passed away in a motorcycle accident in late 2014. The trio had been recording music together for about a decade, and then suddenly guitarist Andrew Fidler and drummer James May were forced not only to mourn their lifelong friend, but also somehow take a step forward without him.
Metal is elemental, under our feet and in our bones. The same chemical element of core, crust, and mantle soaks the body’s blood. Ozzy intones “I am Iron Man” and I grin, teeth straightened by steel, molars full of amalgam. We put plates in heads and rods on spines. Heavy metals are the ….
Though this winter’s been more mild in most parts of the world than any in recent memory, even global warming can’t thaw the crop of frigid metal releases that always surface in the year’s darkest months. From the time the leaves fall from the trees, the genre’s weirdos mobilize, unleashing a steady flow of works with the frostbiting power of liquid nitrogen, and this year’s been no exception. So here’s a rundown of a few of the most endearingly depressing records we’ve seen since the end of list season.