Black Tusk + Dead City Ruins + TTTDC & Swidgen
Ding Dong Lounge, Melbourne, August 5th, 2016
By Bailey Graham
Friday night saw Melbourne’s metalheads alike gathered in full force to witness one of the premier stoner metal gigs of the year. Hailing from Savannah, Georgia, USA; Sludge metal visionaries Black Tusk were set to make their mark on the city for the second night in a row, this time at the iconic Ding Dong Lounge; a venue synonymous with hosting some of the best heavy music gigs around. Following the recent tragedy with the death of founding member and bassist Jonathan Athon, Black Tusk set to reaffirm their position in the stoner metal genre with their latest release “Pillars of Ash”; the basis for their current tour. Joining Black Tusk were hard rockers Dead City Ruins, doom-shredders TTTDC and psychedelic blue rockers Swidgen.
Swidgen were first to embrace the stage, blasting through their bluesy riffs mercilessly. Despite the small number of people in the crowd at this point in the night, Swidgen received a warm welcome and positive reception. TTTDC followed, but this time to a significantly larger group. What was noticeable right away with TTTDC’s set was the level of technical proficiency the three-piece possessed, and it was rather impressive to see such practical use of the Octaver Pedal from guitarist and vocalist Nik Gee. Reminiscent of early-era Black Sabbath with shred elements, TTTDC quickly grabbed the audience’s attention and didn’t let go for the duration of their set.
Providing main support for the night were no strangers to the stage, Dead City Ruins. The fact that they were the black sheep of the lineup, as their sound is significantly different from the rest of the bands on the bill, however, became irrelevant as they quickly won over the crowd with their infectious riffs and groovy licks. The first band of the night to draw in a crowd that filled the venue, every member of the band possessed massive amounts of energy and did not let up in their unleashing of it. A major highlight in Dead City Ruin’s set was watching vocalist Jake Wiffen hit those notes as high as though he had been possessed by Rob Halford (Judas Priest) himself. What could only be described as a perfect support act, the crowd were left wanting more of the hard rockers making apparent the need for a much longer set from this band.
As the PA began to fade in the venue, punters knew what was impending. As the eerie introduction tracks rang through the air, it only complimented the increasing smell of marijuana that filled the venue. ‘A Cold Embrace’ began without warning, invoking everyone to go into a head banging frenzy. Unfortunately, technical difficulties ensued and the song had to be repeated. Repeated chants of “Six, Six, Six!” made way for crowd-favourite ‘Bring Me Darkness”. Black Tusk wasted no time in giving the crowd all they got. As the track began to reach its climactic point, another technical difficulty occurred, thereby ruining the moment. After much time spent fixing the issues at hand, Black Tusk recovered from the difficulty and pushed through with determination and vigour. The sludge-filled riffs continued as ‘God’s on Vacation’ led into the more up-beat, hardcore-esque ‘Screaming Inside Myself’.
The intensity of the energy displayed from the not only the band, but the crowd continued, feeding off each other’s adrenaline – clearly I wasn’t the only one who was seriously enjoying what I’m witnessing. The band then prepared to unleash a newer track from their latest release, ‘Pillars of Ash’, the up-tempo thrash-core ‘Born of Strife’, it was at this point the first signs of a sizeable mosh pit started to form from the intimate crowd. ‘Mass Devotion’ and ‘Crossroads and Thunder’ from 2011’s ‘Set the Dial’ followed, and it became satisfying to witness a band perform a set where the set list was varied from album to album, everyone extremely happy with this decision. As it approached the halfway point of the night, Black Tusk showed no signs of letting up. The vocals of all three members of the American sludge juggernaut did not give in to strain, and almost every note and beat were executed flawlessly.
Following this, was another new track from ‘Pillars of Ash’, ‘Desolation in Endless Times’ which showcased one thing and one thing only, and that was the incredible riff writing Black Tusk are capable of. The pace began to quickly build back up as ‘Enemy of Reason’ and ‘Vulture’s Eye’ sent heads windmilling and bodies bumping. A huge highlight of the whole set was how technically proficient drummer James May is with his kit, as his unique hardcore-style drumming over stoner/sludge riffs has given Black Tusk that unique sound, which sounds magnificent live. The tone of the set changed back into a more mid-paced, riff-focused vibe with ‘Truth Untold’ before closing with the much more up-tempo ‘Beyond the Divide’. Black Tusk returned to the stage for an encore performance of ‘Set The Dial to Your Doom’. No member of the band let up during the entire performance, and their sound mix was incredible, despite the early technical difficulties, Black Tusk exhibited perfection.
I’m amazed at how the Ding Dong Lounge is still standing after a sonic onslaught as vicious as that received by Black Tusk, truly a world-class calibre band, and their live shows are a testament to that statement. All three support acts, Swidgen, TTTDC and Dead City Ruins not only performed extremely well but completely owned the stage as if they were headlining themselves. After a successful first night in Melbourne at the Reverence Hotel, Black Tusk aimed and succeeded in bringing their sludge-fest of a concert to the Ding Dong Lounge. Despite the tragic loss, this band has suffered in recent years, it’s clear that this has only made them stronger as a band and has served as motivation to perform such quality sets, like the one I saw tonight.