Since first listening to Taste The Sin two years ago (lots of walks to the insurance office job listening to that), and which has been on regular rotation ever since, Black Tusk have matured on my musical palate, like a fine (read: any) whiskey. They draw comparisons to Motörhead in that they are heavy rock, scuzzy, not diverse, and a permanently distorted bolt of energy, albeit a bolt of energy that warrants repeat listening throughout each day. When I first listened to the album, I expected Metallica and Baroness–esque compositions. What there is, is distortion, pounding beats, riffs sometimes a little slower, but never clean, and vocals like the bark of a dog, relentless and and rough, like listening to a motorbike. I have received Tend No Wounds expecting a similar listen. The style of the artwork is similar, although by Brian Mercer rather than John Dier Baizley. The macabre anthropological figure still stares at you, the lush detailing is present, as are the insignias of bones, parts of animals, hovering threats from tribal weaponry, all wrapped into circles with Black Tusk rotting but still clear across the top. Stylistically, no change is suggested, but looking at the song titles, the abandon of Taste The Sin, with its concept of a final, frenzied motorcycle ride (for my money, anyway), at a preliminary look seems to have been replaced by a slow fight into a dead end.
We are greeted with A Cold Embrace. It opens with tremolo picking, lasting, lasting, until the drums carry it into a lurching mid–fast swing, guitar and bass in unison, ebbing and flowing into different sections, cutting back to single layers and driving forward, into an abrupt end. The mood is set, and the mood is decisive.
Enemy Of Reason maintains the pace, using drums to alter the texture, suddenly going into a swinging riff. It’s heavy and dense, bass–heavy, and the momentum keeps up, with the breathers simply suggesting a clam before the storm. Then yelled vocals enter, the opening lines declaring reason to be the enemy, but in contrast to Taste The Sin’s sense of abandon, with lines like ‘Storm is brewing, no control, embrace the madness, in your soul’ and ‘Where am I at, where do I go/Don’t know where I’m going, but I ain’t going slow’, Tend No Wounds sounds more defensive; ‘recoil/backed into a wall/recoil, the pressure of it all’ being one example. Enemy Of Reason has riff after riff after riff, with a tone almost chewable. Then the The Weak And The Wise has a violin intro. On first listen, I stopped what I was doing – has the radio come on? Where is that noise coming from? Are those strings – a goddamn oboe? This isn’t like the other songs. Cool. A descending bass pedal riff underneath, and its brooding, introspective, but then we’re in, satisfying lead guitar work, good mosh moment at 2.30. No choruses, bridges, or verses as such – more just riff after riff.
I suppose this where a feel a similarity to Baroness to exist, in the structural freedom and liquidity that they use – or, rather, that just comes to them. Drummer Jamie (only first names are given in sleeve notes) loves his toms, and rolls off them a lot, and his ride for breaking suddenly. Internal/Eternal bludgeons for a long time before the vocals enter, with sweet, piercing lead guitar, followed by writhing riff, then descending into sludge. Truth Untold has massive drums, distorted bass (distorted in a way that suggests, rather than precise calibration of tone, the bass guitarist taking a swig of beer, slinging on his heavily gaffer tape–repaired bass, turning around, giving the E string a pluck, nodding with approval at sound the row of southeast pointing dials are making), smoking guitars. It’s almost thrash when the vocals enter and a clarion call to the days of evil approaching, thick as syrup, rough as tree bark. In Days Of Woe (Outro), easily the best riff so far kicks it all off, a swaggering, spinning riff, growing through layers, until it straightens out. A single line, repeated as a mantra. The end is downcast, times are getting tougher, there is no comfort to come, and nihilism is the here–apparent solution. The truck cuts to single guitar, and is then snuffed out before the build–out can even finish. That’s it, we’re done, we’re outta here. It clocks in at 23 minutes.