Not entirely sure if this is to be Black Tusk’s final album—bassist/vocalist Johnathan Athon tragically passed away weeks after it was recorded. They’ve replaced him with a guy who used to play in Kylesa, and are hitting the road in March, so whether or not it’s the end of the band’s legacy, Pillars of Ash still has some of that memorial aspect.
The Savannah-based band’s legacy was built on heavy, speedy, fuzzy riffs, essentially doing for the Georgia scene what High on Fire did out in Oakland—but as they say, life sounds better with a southern drawl (and by “they,” I mean washed-up country-rockers Alabama). This record pulls no punches, opening with a southern-fried bitchslap in the form of “God’s on Vacation.” This one errs on the punkier side of sludge, with some killer breakdowns in the chorus.
And while no one would confuse Black Tusk with a black metal band, there does seem to be a distinct anti-religious vibe here, made all the more eerie by the fact their frontman would leave us not long afterwards. “Desolation of Endless Times” channels High on Fire and even Motorhead, but with even more evil vocals. “Born of Strife” is a balls-out, old-school thrasher that shows shades of Sodom or Sacrifice, while “Damned in the Ground” attacks right off the bat with a whole buncha buzzsaw riffs and a fistful of moshable breakdowns.
“Still Not Well” might be the sludgiest song on here—and, at three-and-a-half minutes, it’s also one of the longest. This mid-paced march melds Crowbar grooves and black-metal banshee wails into a pretty decent piece of sludge metal. The oddly prescient “Walk Among the Sky” also offers some great grooves, with a heavy verse that oozes out of the southern soil. Whether or not it’s the end of the band, this is a pretty solid swansong for its frontman. RIP Athon.