There are tough reviews to write and then there are really really tough ones. Ones where you listen to an album over an over trying to find a place to dive in and start collecting your thoughts and piecing together something cogent to read. This is one of those times and T.C.B.T., by Black Tusk is the album of the moment for me. They came out of Savannah, Georgia at a time when that scene was “the next big thing” you often hear about in music, along with Baroness, and Kylesa. Except these guys were the real deal and more out of the box radical sounding than their peers. From their early EP When Kingdoms Fall, a bunch of split’s and EPs, and four full-lengths later, these southern sons strutted their stuff, waved their flag of harsh and heavy and made it on their own. And just when things could not be going better for them on the heels of their nasty album Pillars of Ash, the beautiful soul Jonathan Athon was snuffed out and taken from them and us fans too. Beat up, but not broken, the band came back together to create new music and fly the banner higher than ever on T.C.B.T. (Season of Mist).
No one could every replace Athon, but stepping in on bass and vocals is Corey Barhorst (ex-Kylesa) to lend his deft bass lines and screams. Drummer and co-founder James May and guitarist/vocalist Andrew Fidler, are also back and the three poured out their souls on these tracks. They also got an assist on guitar from producer Chris Adams. You can feel the weight of their pain in these songs; their anger, denial, defiance, and sense of self in the words and notes. To their credit, the band has done very little press or explaining song meanings. You will find some inspiration in these tracks, even some deep poetic moments. They certainly deserve a little mystery and the listener can interpret some of the more obtuse tracks for themselves.
Overall the album is even more raw and raucous than their previous records. Where Pillars had a little polish on it, there isn’t much here. There is a fair amount of doomy sludge ugliness in the riffs, but there is also a ton of straight up, chest-beating hardcore influenced jams and some great guitar stuff that almost defies classification. After a trippy intro, ‘Closed Eye’ is one of these songs. Other early tracks like ‘Agail’, and ‘Lab Rat’ rumble with heaviness, crazed guitar lines, and attitude. One of the singles, ‘Scalped’ definitely is a little more out of the box, with its movie theme-type melodies and organ, before the ferocity kicks back in. A real nice ebb and flow between styles and dynamics.
‘Ghosts Roam’ might be the best song on here. Full of gravitas, venom-spit vocals, the wicked tribal drumming, and buzz saw axework, it just crushes. ‘Ill At Ease’ and ‘Rest With The Dead’ have that classic BT feel to them too. Of the late album tracks, I really loved ‘Burn The Stars’ with the gang vocals at the end.
In some ways, T.C.B.T. is the quintessential Black Tusk album. It’s a defiant “fuck you!” to the trials of life, and makes for a good rallying cry if shit has you feeling down.