Days Of Woe: RIP Jon Athon

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Distracting myself from yet another job application some time between last Tuesday and Thursday (time blurs with all the excitement), I thought I’d see what MetalSucks had to say to cheer me up. Instead, the leading story was that Jonathan Athon, vocalist and bass guitarist for Black Tusk, had just died in a motorcycle accident.

Damn, there goes a quality band and by all accounts a cool dude.

Damn, no more chances to see them live.

Damn, no more albums.

Damn, no more Black Tusk.

Damn.

These thoughts, besides not necessarily being accurate[1], are by–and–large selfish, and my concerns pale in comparison to those of his friends and family. But that headline was a heart–sinker, and thinking about it still brings on that kicked in the guts feeling. It’s hard to write a eulogy of any particular insight upon someone I′ve never met, and there is already one such piece here by Kim Kelly, so I’ll just write about what Black Tusk mean to me.

Black Tusk aren′t as big as they deserve to be (I′m sticking to the present tense as I′m unwilling to write them off so abruptly and possibly prematurely), and are never going to be, with or without Athon′s death. Maybe this is part of their appeal; they work, they make raw, no–frills metal that’s fun (which they dubbed ‘swamp metal’), and they do it because they love it and do so free of any bollocks . Workin′ like a workin′ man do, as another Southern band once said. Their music videos reflect this sense of fun, as do their lyrics;

Time is coming, heed the sound, rip your face off, thrash around […]
Storm is brewing, no control, embrace the madness, in your soul’ (Embrace The Madness).

Although not an intellectual musical endeavour, with their ain′t–broke–don′t–fix–it songwriting style, Black Tusk are yet a deeply artistic band, with a heavy emphasis upon pentagrams, pointy guitars, scores of filthy tattoos and that beard. I once described them to a friend as a modern Motörhead, and I stand by that; this is  rockin′ metal you could play at a party. As Athon eloquently put it:

We′re not one of those negativity bands that you go see and you want to slit your fucking wrist to, you know?[2]

So I guess what I′m saying here is that even though the only connection I′ve had to Athon is through a CD, photos and videos, which aren′t going anywhere, I feel a real sense of loss, and that a special time is over. Imagine what the people who actually knew him, and even those who went to see Black Tusk play, feel. Black Tusk aren′t necessarily over, but Athon′s third(ish) of the vocal duties and bass attack are irreplaceable, as will be his stage presence. As was the case with EyeHateGod, we’ll have to wait and see.

This is a sad end to by what all accounts seems to have been a life well lived. I was going to end with this line from Embrace The Madness : ‘Black to black, tusk to tusk, ashes to ashes, dust to dust’. But this seemed more appropriate;

Where am I at, where do I go
Don′t know where I′m goin, but I ain′t goin slow. – The Ride

RIP dude.

[1] I’m not sure if they had material recorded for future release. It rings a bell, but I can’t find any sources saying as much.

[2]http://oregonmusicnews.com/2013/03/22/how-to-catch-fish-with-your-own-beard-qa-with-athon-of-black-tusk/

The Winter Of Our Content: The Deadly Rhythm (Of the Train Line)

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Well, it’s cold again and everything is starting to die, but time flies when you’re getting rad. Coherently translating music into words is still hard, but I think I′m getting better, taking it one day at a time, staying off the streets. Aside from the albums I′ve already written about, I listened to Torche′s Harmonicraft, Nail’s Abandon All Life, Joni Mitchell’s Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On and Slayer’s South of Heaven (but you already knew that) a lot this summer. Finding the time to concentrate on an album remains hard, and I′m still hoping  the time for more immersive listening will present itself soon.

On that note, whilst not quite ready for winter, the turning leaves, the shorter days and the rash of squirrel guts on woodland roads have made me think about records with an autumnal feel. I’ve already mentioned Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde, and am keen to listen to Type O Negative after reading a great article about it the That’s How Kids Die blog (now sadly defunct). One album I didn’t expect to be listening to in this context is Refused’s The Shape Of Punk To Come: A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts, but as the Swedish punks say themselves, every street is an adventure.

I’ve recently begun commuting into London, up early to make a 1 hour 50 minute journey, waking into and travelling home in the dark.  The sharp, angry, futuristic, polemical, adventurous punk of The Shape Of Punk To Come is a good way to both escape and insert a bit of vitality into this routine, which is a daily norm for a lot of people. Even when shuffling along in the middle of a crowd to get on a train that turns into a game of human Tetris, it’s good to hear someone screaming that ya don’t have to be a cog in the machine, and that the smallest act of resistance is an act of personal revolution.

Initially, a punk band with choppy rhythms who experiments with electronica and jazz doesn’t sound like a suitably introspective or desolate soundtrack, but Refused are no ordinary band; endlessly progressive (as much as an album captured in recording can be), trying to pin this tangible but unfathomable quality down, I think Refuse succeed that they create a sense of mystery, a rarity within punk music.

This album, due to its energy, merging of genres, and said (or unsaid, I suppose) sense of mystery, puts me in mind of being at a show in a basement or a packed–out venue in winter, in which the outside cold quickly ceases to exist, and the overwhelming sensory attack of the music, lights and smells quickly becomes totally immersive and expands beyond just being a moment in time, and then departing said gig into a snow–blanketed and transformed street where it quickly becomes quiet on the journey home in the dark, and the earth is suddenly as inscrutable and unfathomable as the sky with this blanket of white and cold, and upon getting home neither of these two worlds seems entirely real, and this detachment is precious because each one was so real in how it redefined the world, even if it was just a little corner of it. Maybe this is what Refused mean in their sleeve notes

The beat hypnotises as the heat is felt through the room and we all take part knowing that revolution never felt more alive…takes us into places we never thought existed where we believe and know for real that this is the time to live, fight, steal a kiss and eagerly join in…This could be the shape of punk to come, liberation theology in practice…the sum of our parts forming the gag in the mouth that voices the status quo…Or it could be just another sleepless midnight punk romance.

Refused are about more than hearing them right at that moment. Their call for a personal revolution expands beyond The Shape of Punk To Come’s 55 minutes in calling for a redefinition of how the world is perceived, what is and what can be, and to see the world with a detachment which allows the redefinition of every street becoming an adventure, and to create music which in its escapism inspires a change in reality.

Commuting or not, at the bleakest time of year this inspiration feels vital. Compared to other albums I have in mind for the winter series (the world holds its breath) this seems like more of an album that struggles against suffering than complements it.

Don’t settle for or embrace the cold. Build a fire.