Most folks who follow the Savannah music scene have likely heard of Baroness and Kylesa. Even if brutal modern metal isn’t their particular cup of tea, the regional, national and —of late— international acclaim those two groups have generated has resulted in name recognition that far exceeds their actual devoted fanbase.
That’s encouraging to Andrew Fidler of Black Tusk. Over the course of “more tours than (he) can count,” this locally-based power trio of guitar (Fidler), drums (James May) and bass (Athon — just Athon) has trod the same path as both of those groups. They’ve played many of the same venues, made records in the same Columbia, S.C. studio, and been featured on the same bills.
Now, with the release this weekend of their latest CD EP, The Fallen Kingdom (and a brand-new full-length album almost ready to drop on respected ultra-indie label Hyperrealist), this self-professed “swamp metal” band seems poised to reap some measure of the same rewards as their more established brethren.
The eight-song EP, tracked last year at producer (and Kylesa member) Phil Cope’s familiar stomping grounds The Jam Room, clocks in at just over twenty-three minutes. It’s that insistence on brevity over indulgence that Fidler feels may ultimately help Black Tusk to stand somewhat apart from the myriad of similar-sounding acts on the road today — although he’s quick to note that he and his bandmates aren’t particularly worried about being lumped in with their competition in the first place.
“When it comes to song structure, there are a lot of bands that are real heavy, and then they take too many risks. They try to go on too long. As long as we structure our songs right, we won’t have that problem.”
Fidler explains that the EP, which was recorded last year, lingered for months in typical music industry limbo, until a deal was struck to release it independently with the help of one of their biggest supporters.
“We shopped it around to a bunch of indie labels, and some of them were really interested, but none wound up bidding on it, so the deals fell apart. We sat on it all this time, and finally John offered to do the cover art for us as well as put up half the manufacturing costs.”
He’s referring to John Baizley, guitarist and frontman for Baroness, whose intricate, gruesomely psychedelic pen-and-ink work is becoming all the rage in certain metal circles. His illustration skills are increasingly in high-demand for metal bands’ CD covers, T-shirts and stickers. In fact, he also drew the stunning EP cover for buzzworthy Ohio band Skeletonwitch, whom Black Tusk joins for a two-week Southeastern tour starting with this Saturday night’s show at The Jinx.
“John’s really blowing up as far as that stuff goes,” says Fidler — agreeing with me that Baizley’s style bears more than a passing resemblance to iconic metal artist Pushead, known best for his work with superstars Metallica and The Misfits.
Fidler says that despite the fact that the band has another record coming out in less than two months, he feels this EP will generate a strong amount of interest, especially to those who value Baizley’s artwork.
“We’re making 300 copies, and after they’re gone, we won’t repress it. The recordings will float around forever, but the CD itself will be a real collector’s item.”
While the band’s previous tours have lasted for up to six weeks at a time and taken them as far West as Texas, as far North as New York City and as far South as Florida, Fidler says they’re gearing up for a marathon trip that will take them all the way to the West Coast as support act for experimental Atlanta metal band Zoroaster.
For now, all the members of Black Tusk hold down the type of jobs which allow them to split and tour for weeks at a time: Athon is a master carpenter; James is a bartender; and Fidler is a landscaper.
“I’m actually sitting on a lawn mower right now,” he chuckles over the phone.
Yet, if these musicians have their way, they’ll make their livings playing metal.
“Work sucks. Definitely,” says Fidler.
“There’s not telling when it’ll happen, but that’s the plan. We’ll just keep working and playing shows until all we do is play.”
Black Tusk celebrates the release of The Fallen Kingdom Saturday night at The Jinx with Cleveland thrashers Skeletonwitch and Atlanta’s black metal/grindcore quartet Withered. The EP will be available for $10. The 21+ show starts at 11 pm. For music samples, go to www.myspace.com/blacktusk ,www.myspace.com/skeletonwitch and www.myspace.com/withered.