Black Tusk

support Howl
author AP date 24/02/11 venue BETA, Copenhagen, DEN

February was a slow gig month for Rockfreaks.net. There were nonetheless a handful of gigs too attractive to be missed (some of which we missed regardless, courtesy of myself and the editor-in-chief spending a week skiing in the Swiss alps), one of which saw Savannah, GA-born power sludge trio Black Tusk bring the putrid stench of a rotten swamp to Copenhagen. With them came the less known Howl from Providence, RI, to provide a more traditional, doom-laden rendition of the genre; and despite it being little Friday with a nine-to-five looming in the immediate future for most, attendance was - if not altogether impressive - sufficient for two bands of this caliber.

Howl

Without much precedence, Howl are quick to garner the attention of the crowd - not so much with their music as with the captivating stage presence of recent addition Andrea Black. Not only is his execution of many-a-solo and demanding riff sublime, his attitude and boundless energy has the mark of a man who sincerely wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world right now. The remnant members pale in comparison to this caricature of a textbook heavy metal aficionado; his facial contortions mimicking the passionate focus of legendary guitar heroes like Slash, Angus Young and Jimmy Page. But out of the two bands on the bill tonight, Howl is definitely the less ambitious in musical terms. Their slow burning riffs, murky guitar tone and trudging rhythms sound as though they were extracted straight from the sludge metal ABC, making it difficult for the band to form any kind of distinct identity among the recent surge of similar bands. What the band does deserve commendment for, however, is their unbridled desire to be here at all, realizing - as my colleague EW said about them on their London show - their (probably) unique opportunity of touring Europe to the fullest extent. As such, the lack of sonic surprises was more than compensated for by the band's visible pride at being able to play their material for us.

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Black Tusk

Black Tusk are a slightly more relished force on the scene, having convinced the critics and assembled an avid following with last year's "Taste the Sin" album. It does not take me long to understand what the fuss is about, as Black Tusk are in fact the very antithesis of sludge. For once, the description offered by Wikipedia - heavy metal power trio - is dead on, although it is tempting to append "/ rock n' roll" as well. In essence, the most accurate description that I can muster up is that Black Tusk does to the sludge metal genre what Kvelertak does to black metal; unwinding its preconceptions and assuming the role of a trend setter. Indeed, sludge is probably the last construct to cross my mind in light of the profusion of hardcore punk influences bleeding through. For much of the set, the rhythm follows a break-neck tempo that often obscures the "swamp metal" core which the band ascribes to.

At the same time, there is little left to be desired in the actual performance. Like Howl before, Black Tusk is home to a very enthusiastic guitarist in Andrew Fidler, who plays by his own rules and defies the stereotype that sludge metal musicians prefer to remain depressingly still and have a grave expression on their faces. But unlike Howl, where the focus rested almost solely on this one musician, all three members of Black Tusk are active participants in ensuring that this tiny show in a tiny country imprints itself in the memories of those who decided to turn up. Condescension left out in the cold, their approach of ploughing through their material with relentless abandon, sporting wide smiles and expressing genuine gratitude whenever they can, and a sense of urgency makes Black Tusk a formidable live act - one which I'll be seeing again the first chance I get.

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