Review Summary: Ted Nugent would approve.
A quick look through Blacktusk's myspace photos reveal a number of interesting items that the band surround themselves with: dingy backwater sheds, garages with various tools hung along the walls, a crocodile, a number of small dead animals including but not limited to a raccoon and a squirrel, a lot of cigarettes, a lot of beer, a few mounted deer heads, and a spray-painted sign that simply says "HELL." Also, you can fit a whole finger into vocalist/guitarist James' bellybutton.
The point of listing those items is to show that Blacktusk haven't strayed far from their southern roots and that they aren't afraid to let their fierce Confederate pride show through in their music. It's always a great thing to listen to a band who know where they've come from, and realize that there's something to be said for letting both the positive and negative aspects of their homeland influence them (the camaraderie implied by the beer and hunting, and the "HELL" sign, respectively). Self-described as "swamp metal," Blacktusk's main distinguishing feature is the fact that all three members contribute lead vocals, ranging from a Blood Brothers-reminiscent piercing wail to a Baroness/High On Fire/Mastodon style bellow. Blacktusk's fellow comrades in the sludge genre have obviously had a fairly large impact on the band, as they alternately channel the balls-out breakneck rock of Baroness and the crushing atmospheric material of a band like Neurosis.
What sets Blacktusk apart from other bands is their songwriting formula. They combine aspects of sludge, post metal, post hardcore, and old-fashioned southern rock into a package that's actually surprisingly accessible for how intense it is. Passage Through Purgatory is one of the grooviest and most rockin' album of the year, and while it might not place very high on a lot of "top albums of the year" lists, it certainly deserves a spot in the lower half. It's a very promising debut; Blacktusk wear their influences prominently on their sleeves, but their sound never becomes tedious or bogged down because of it. They've managed to streamline the traditional doomy sludge sound by working with short, hard-hitting songs as opposed to eight minute epics. By throwing a bit of a curveball in the form of these shortened songs, Blacktusk have managed to effectively bridge the gap between punk and sludge. They are an excellent jumping-on point for anyone who wants to slowly but steadily immerse themselves into the world of post metal.
Highlights include the opener "Witch's Spell," a minute-long tribal-sounding instrumental punch of an introduction to Blacktusk that leads perfectly into "Fixed in the Ice," where the listener is immediately greeted by the higher-pitched wailing and lightning-fast riffing before leading into a slower almost-a-breakdown-but-it's-not section accentuated by the lower growling of guitarist James. "Call of the Sewer Rat" is the closest thing to a traditional doom-influenced sludge song; a slow-burning instrumental riff-fest that's sure to get heads bobbing and feet stomping. While there may not be much of an argument made in the form of "You should listen to Blacktusk instead of Baroness/Isis/Neurosis/etc.," the fact of the matter is that there's only around a half hour of music on Passage Through Purgatory, and sometimes you just need something hard-hitting and a bit faster than the more traditional sludge bands. If that's what you need, then that's when these down-home southern fellers will burst through the door with six-packs in their hands, grabbing you by the balls and forcing your finger into James' bellybutton.
Who knows? It might never come out.