Review Summary: An admirably fierce, genre-bending sludge metal album that perfectly reflects the hell-raising attitude of its creators.
Crawling out of Georgia's highly acclaimed sludge metal scene, Black Tusk continue to explore their distinct take on sludge metal on their second Relapse Records album, "Set The Dial." While such qualities as massive riffs, booming vocals and an overall gritty sound have been all inherited from such acts as Mastodon, Kylesa and Baroness, the Savannah power trio crafts their very own blend of sludge metal unconventionally fusing it with hardcore and technical thrash tendencies. In fact, what distinguishes Black Tusk is the inclination to write high-energy, fierce music that perfectly reflects their hell-raising attitude. Granted, they don't reinvent the wheel, nor do they try, yet their unapologetic, no-holds-barred approach comes as a welcome change when compared to a frequently self-indulgent presentation of their peers.
“Set The Dial” can be defined not only by its frequently manic pace, but also adventurous dynamics that make for the quality that's hardly disposable. The outfit steers clear of employing the traditional verse-chorus-bridge song structure in order to make room for diverse passages that revolve around smoky, yet always tight riffs, bouncy bass lines and highly technical drumming. This is all coupled with mid-tempo dominance and furious, serrated vocal outbursts being delivered by every member of the band. Additionally, the formidable Jack Endino (TAD, Soundgarden, Valis) coats the record with uncommonly clean production that makes every instrument perfectly audible. This approach works surprisingly well putting an emphasis on the act's ultra-technicality.
Aside from being genre-bending, the album's also resoundingly familiar in places. Some guitar play feels just too strongly reminiscent of countless stoner rock acts as does the leading southern rock riff in “Ender Of All.” Elsewhere, Black Tusk sound overly similar to their peer Georgia-based formations. For instance, “This Time Is Divine” shares the same vocal approach and sensibilities with “Leviathan”-era Mastodon. In contrast, there are some way more creative tracks that provide diversity that was nowhere to be found on the act's previous releases. Instrumental “Resistor” is shrewdly conceived and immediate finding the band exploring new musical territories, while “Crossroads And Thunder” finishes the album with an infectious, groovy bass line that emerges on the top of low-tuned, distorted guitar work. Besides, there's a certain level of intricacy involved in nearly every single moment on the disc, whether it's stomping aggressiveness of “Bring Me Darkness” or plodding doom of “Mass Devotion.”
With its sparse 34-minute running time, “Set The Dial” happens to be admirably relentless and focused to the point it's really difficult to pick out any standout songs. In case of another similar act this methodical approach might have cut short the spontaneity, but Black Tusk just thrive on it adding plenty of various influences and, in the process, recording a sludge metal album with a crossover appeal. The fans of the genre won't be disappointed either as “Set The Dial” is sufficiently fierce, intense and technical to make their heads nod in approval.