All too many times, bands come erupting from the gates with their debut full-length records at full, hell-spawned power, the proverbial blood, sweat and tears gushing from every raging pore…and the fans love every single song, every single note. With that blistering introduction, those bands seem to reach their peak before they’ve even really started, and those loyal and/or fanatical about that first, easily “classic” or “fan favorite” release soon find themselves wondering, “What the hell is next?!” It’s happened all too often. Throughout the years, some referred to the frightful obstacle of a second follow-up as the “sophomore slump”. And what’s worse is when a band seemingly fails to not only top their first release with the second, but delivers a third effort that still very much pales in comparison to their initial, unstoppable onslaught. I’m pretty sure more than ten fingers are needed to count the times that, after being completely floored by a particular band’s first record, I was immensely let down by not only their second release, but the third monstrosity as well. Yes sometimes, it’s like the people behind such debut archetypes instantly lose all ability to step it up a notch, creatively, when the time comes to enter the studio once again. However, there are indeed those that can and absolutely do succeed in topping themselves from one release to another, in turn keeping the ever-present question of what they’re going to do next nestled firmly in the brains of ragers everywhere and answering with a hard-knuckled fist every damn time.

With The Cold Testament (Prosthetic Records), Seattle’s crusty foursome of fierce, blackened death, Book Of Black Earth (at times featuring members of Wormwood and Skarp among their ranks), have conjured yet another sinister chapter to their story. As ravenous as the beast that so menacingly graces the cover art, the record is void of the keyboard element found on 2008’s conceptual monster, Horoskopus, giving the songs a crustier, more guitar-oriented sound. And don’t let that toned down logo fool you. The band’s sound is every bit as venomous as before, just more streamlined. Clocking in at the thirty-five minute mark with a vibe that could best be described as raw and catchy, Book Of Black Earth are showing us all that they’re so much more than a one-trick pony. Tracked by Chris Common (Pelican, The Sword) at Seattle’s own Red Room Studio and mixed by Dan Swano (Nasum, Opeth) at Unisound in Sweden, the entire record enters new territory. Not only has the band’s overall sound assumed a more straight-forward, raw approach, but the possibility that the listener will find themselves screaming along from start to finish has just become a billion times greater. Each song found here stands on its own with bared teeth and a clenched fist itching to strike and strike again.

Upon first listen to numbers like opener “Weight Of The World”, the ominous march of “Antarctica”, “Irritating Spectre” or the whirlwind devastation of “Termination”, it becomes instantly clear that this band has found their niche. “Research And Destroy” thrashes onward, entrancing the listener with jackhammer percussion, cyclonic guitar work and vocals clearly born from the glorious wrath of sandpaper harshness. And just when you thought Book Of Black Earth could possibly throw in some sort of intermission before this nightmare was finished, you’ll find yourself to be dead-fucking-wrong when “Road Dogs From Hell” delivers an electrified wrecking ball assault to your psyche. Speaking of any kind of break in the shitstorm, it’s not really until the starting sequence of the seven minute plus closing number, “I See Demons”, that Book Of Black Earth even come close to giving us a chance to catch our breath. Even then, that sense of relative calm only lasts until around the mid-way point. That’s when all hell breaks loose once again for one last go-around proving that Book Of Black Earth are a band not soon to be forgotten. Trimmed of the fat and set to destroy, The Cold Testament is blunt, unforgiving evidence of their power.

The Cold Testament streaming