Walk Among the Sky with 'Pillars of Ash,' Black Tusk's Final Album with Fallen Bassist Athon
Photo by Jeff Johnson
It's fitting that I'm hungover as shit while I try to write this, because if there's one thing that stands out about the years I spent on the road with Black Tusk, it's the whiskey. It sounds flippant to say that now, and it is, but there's truth to it, too; through all the late nights, inside jokes, booming amplifiers, big crowds and small ones, treacherous snowy roads, scorching desert drives, fights pitting Wendy's against Arby's, truck stop shenanigans, backyard barbeques, and hours of sleep snatched on couches, floors, and, eventually, hotel rooms, we always had fun, and that fun almost always started with a shot or a chug. It was rock'n'roll, after all, and none of us were angels.
That fun only stopped when founding member, bassist, vocalist, and bearded hellraiser, Jonathan Athon (always known simply as Athon) tragically passed away following a motorcycle accident in 2014. For a great many people, the world has never been the same since, and there's a reason that his face has been affixed to countless whiskey bottles across the country (and across Europe, too). Slugging back a swig with the ginger hellion himself winking out at you is a sure-fire way to bring back all the good times he shared with his brothers in arms, guitarist Andrew Fidler and drummer James May, as well as all the friends and fans who became family over his too few years on this earth.
He damn sure made his mark, and his legacy lives on in the fiery, snarling beast he helped create. Black Tusk's trademark "swamp metal" sound is stuffed with burly doom riffs, Motorpunk breakaways, thrashy solos, and sneering reflections of the trio's crusty Southern roots, but despite all the aggression and the ever-climbing decibels, at its core, every riff or beat is geared towards having a good time. It's party music for the apocalypse, and Black Tusk have always made clear their intention to ride it out in style.
It's been over a year since we bade him farewell, and over the course of those twelve-odd months, Black Tusk has continued to thrive, now aided by the talents of longtime friend and bass ace Corey Barhorst (Niche, ex-Kylesa). The time has come to release the band's fourth album, Pillars of Ash—the culmination of a decade's worth of sweat and blood, distinguished further by its somber status as the final recording to feature Athon's thunderous bass and rafter-shaking roar. Like everything Black Tusk does, this album's a family affair. Pillars of Ash was recorded with Toxic Holocaust's Joel Grind, an old friend and tourmate, and features haunting, intricate artwork by band pal Jeremy Hush, who honed his supernatural skills at the Savannah College of Art and Design—the same place Athon had studied photography.
Relapse is running preorders for it on a kaleidoscope of formats here, and the album officially drops on January 29. It's impossible for me to approach Pillars of Ash with an objectively critical eye, so I'll just say this: I could not be more honored to be premiering it here on Noisey, and I hope you love it as much as I do.