Black Tusk

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Black Tusk

Swamp metal isn’t the most glamorous genre definition to shape your musical career. Instead, it’s a term you’d have to become comfortable with. For Georgian heavy metal outfit Black Tusk, it’s something they thrive on – a combination of ear-melting riffs and hard work above all expectation has helped establish them as one of the most efficient and determined bands of the last ten years. With the release of their most recent album Pillars of Ash, drummer Jamie May says Black Tusk are proud of the tag, having no one else to blame but themselves.

“Where we stay is surrounded by swamp and it’s very humid here all the time,” he says. “I was asked how I’d describe our sound, and I didn’t really know how to. It’s thick, like a wall of heat, so I said ‘I don’t know, swamp metal’ and it stayed with us. We’ve printed it on a couple of things since, sewed patches – that was almost a decade ago.”

While being plagued by misfortune and heartbreak with the death of bassist Jonathon Athon after sustaining irreparable brain damage from a motorcycle accident in 2014, May says the band became closer than ever, guided by the fact that they were able to finish Pillars of Ash with their friend that meant the world to them.

“Jonathon ended up dying about a month and a half after the album was recorded,” he says. “It got mastered and mixed without him there, but he got to play through the whole thing. Of course it’s something you don’t ever think is going to happen, but there wasn’t anything we could do. At least he was there.”

Following Athon’s death, Black Tusk were in complete disarray. With tours right around the corner to promote their new album, there was uncertainty around the band’s future. While considering calling it quits, May claims that the band decided to continue based on passionate musicianship, knowing they made the right choice for themselves and their fans.

“We’re the type of band that have always respected other bands that stick together through all the bullshit and keep the same members,” he says. “To watch your friends grow as musicians is a really cool thing. But someone dying is completely unavoidable.

“We’d thought about breaking up briefly, but if it was me that died, I’d want Black Tusk to keep going. And I know Jonathon would want the same. What do we even do all this for? I’d rather it have continued with the same members but it didn’t pan out that way. We had some massive tours coming up, so we had to make a quick decision. We’d just finished the new album. What were we going to do, release it and let that be it? No way.”

A support slot for Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society was the turning point in the band’s career, helping them usher in new member Corey Barhorst. Chaos and stress ensued, but the band were determined to perform the shows as a thank you to their fans for sticking by them through the darkest time in their almost ten year history.

“It was pretty big for Corey to jump on and learn the parts quickly,” May says. “He did so well and knocked it out of the park. We did two more tours with him after that and he killed it every night. We couldn’t not initiate him, he completely deserved it.”

The band are preparing to bring their positive energy to Australia. “We’re expecting the unexpected,” he says. “All we know of Australia is what we see on TV, but we know we have a lot of fans there. We’re completely stoked.”

Written by Benjamin Potter

When & Where: Ding Dong Lounge, Melbourne – August 5
Release: Pillars of Ash is out now via Relapse Records.