The last four years have been a trial for Black Tusk, but Savannah’s swamp metal punks are hitting the reset button this year with a new album and a new member.
In March, they announced their sixth studio album, the first with new bassist Corey Barhorst, set to be released later this year on Season of Mist (Cannabis Corpse, Weedeater, Abysmal Dawn). The untitled album follows 2016’s “Pillars of Ash,” the last album to feature founding bassist, the late Jonathan Athon.
Over the last two years, Black Tusk has been writing and working on the new material. Due in part to family illness and in part to a new writing format, Black Tusk recorded the album at The Garage in Savannah.
“We figured we could take our time with it,” Barhorst said. “With Andrew’s family issues, it was easier for him. Just all of us being able to be home. We did some pre-production stuff, and one-off recordings at The Garage. We all felt comfortable with that place. It’s a good studio. It’s five minutes from our house.”
Incidentally, longtime friend Chris “Scary” Adams had just moved back to town before they were set to record. Adams, who’s worked on three of the band’s past albums, was brought in to engineer. After recording was finished, they decided to beef up the band for the forthcoming tour, so they asked Adams to join on guitar.
“He’s going to do some tours with us and see if that’s what he wants to do,” guitarist Andrew Fidler said. “Hopefully it is and we keep going.”
“It’s a trial period,” Barhorst added. “He gets to see if he likes it and we get to see if we like him.”
Black Tusk formed in 2005 when Fidler and Athon’s punk band broke up. They asked drummer and neighbor James May to play with them. Drawing influence from the Savannah hardcore punk and metal scene, namely hardcore outfit Damad and sludge titans Kylesa, Black Tusk melded those influences into their own unique, blazing sound and called it swamp metal.
With the sudden loss of Athon in 2014 in a motorcycle accident, Fidler and May chose to soldier on in his memory. Barhorst picked up bass duties for the tours that were already booked, which included a European stint with Black Label Society.
The new trio began writing together a couple of months after Barhorst joined, solidifying a new direction for the band. The addition of Adams and a new label is all part of the band’s desire to move forward with the project.
“Our deal with Relapse [Records] was up,” Fidler said. “We basically wanted to press a big reset button as a band. We’ve been around for over a decade. We’re going to come at this completely fresh, out of the gate. New label. New f***ing lineup. We’re going to go at it hard. Fresh spin on it. Hopefully get a new van.”
Never be the same
Black Tusk will never be the same band they were with Athon. Understanding that, they’ve taken the project in a new direction musically as well. Shifting back to their punk roots, the new material was well thought out and intentionally plays to their strengths.
“We decided we definitely wanted to go more of a punk route than a metal part,” Barhorst said. “Even though we still wrote a bunch of metal songs. There’s so many metal bands out there that have extremely good players, that can play circles around all of us. Instead of trying to compete with that, we’re all punk dudes. Let’s just do that. I think that helped a lot with the new band. We referred to it as a new band.
“We jammed a bunch of stuff that didn’t work,” he continued. “Then it just clicked. We started writing stuff we were getting stoked about.”
Family illness also kept the band close to home in Savannah.
“My wife got sick over the last two years,” Fidler added. “We took time off the road so I could be home. We also had this extra time at home to write."
Athon will always be part of Black Tusk’s legacy.
“We’ll always do this in his memory,” Fidler said. “But also, we’re moving forward. Realistically, we’re not the band we were with Athon. We have new members. We have a new writing process. We’ve gotten older. Lots of other things have happened in our life. Everything is moving forward. Life is constantly moving and we’re moving with it.”
Lies in Stone
In similar form, Savannah's Lies in Stone is moving forward as well. After losing singer Victoria Scalisi last year to a battle with cancer, they will play their first show as a trio May 12 with Black Tusk. The former Damad frontwoman was a force on stage, with vocals that rivaled any male in the hardcore arena, and an integral part of the Savannah music community.
Lies in Stone has only played three shows since forming. Although they considered adding a vocalist and tried out a couple of people, eventually they decided to keep it to the original lineup. Bassist Ben Maher and drummer Scott Cooper have taken over vocal duties.
They had 10 songs ready for an album before Scalisi passed. Guitarist Burke Stewart, Maher and Cooper traveled to Columbia, S.C., and recorded the music at the Jam Room with Phillip Cope (Kylesa, Damad). Scalisi, however, was not well enough to travel and died before being able to record.
Adams is set to record the new Lies in Stone album later this year, which will feature most of the same songs they wrote with Scalisi, but with new lyrics.
“There was no reason not to keep playing; at least finish the memory,” Stewart said. “She requested that we didn’t use any of her lyrics when she was passing away. We had to rewrite all the lyrics. It’s the same material we played with her, in memory of her. We changed the lyrics in the songs. Some are about her. Some are about other subjects. Moving forward, with memory.”
Black Tusk and Lies in Stone play an all-ages show May 12 at Sulfur Studios. Black Tusk will have a proper album release party later this year, once release dates for the album are solidified.