Fast, loose and dirty. No, I’m not talking about Mrs M – it’s how I’m taking my metal right now.
It takes something quite special to come between me and my daily worship at the altar of crusty, d-beating death madness.
That something is Cold Testament, the third opus from Seattle quartet Book of Black Earth.
Reviews containing those magic words (crusty, death, punky and blackened) may have drawn me in but little I have read really nails why Cold Testament not only hits the bullseye but proceeds to tear it a new one.
Having ditched their keyboard player since last album Horoskopus and consequently changed their sound, Book of Black Earth certainly toss a lot in the pot for this follow up.
A pinch of black, a sliver of sludge, a dash of death, a hunk or two of classic metal with a smidgen of punk as well as a few surprise flavours here and there.
It should be a mess but like so many great bands of yore, Book of Black Earth transcend influences to make their sound their own.
I love the 80s greats but I have little interest in the regurgitation of classic metal tropes.
Yet it’s the masterful and controlled deployment of riffs, drum patterns and melodic leads that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Metallica or Maiden album that really make this record so vibrant.
It might seem pulverising on first listen but amid the blasting and face melting of opener Weight of the World are nods to that most non-brutal of metal records …And Justice for All.
What makes it work so well is the on-a-dime shifts between more extreme sounds like tremolo picked riffs and the more classic elements. It’s seamless.
TJ Cowgill’s vocals are so expressive as they dip and soar, raspy and raw yet also largely intelligible.
The backing vocals double at a different register for affecting results.
Cowgill really hits his stride with absolutely euphoric roars on Antarctica. It’s a bit John Baizley – high praise indeed. This is extreme music you can bellow along to.
It bleeds emotion but is actually pretty damn catchy too. A rare bird indeed.
It was after about ten listens, I worked out why Cold Testament is such a future-classic.
Without watering down their sound (it’s rawer and punkier than anything they have ever done) or pandering to trends, Cold Testament makes the heavier side of metal accessible.
They bring the the beef and the melody. Not only that, this record is packed with memorable songs without sacrificing complexity or density.
It’s interesting to note that Cowgill studied three classic records while recording the album in a bid to “crack their code” (Mastodon Remission, His Hero is Gone Monument to Thieves and Dismember Death Metal).
I think he did a pretty good job.
That aside, close-out to Cold Testament deserves special mention.
After five anguished yet somehow upbeat songs that blend classic metal with various helpings of black, death and sludge, the final trio of tracks not only cracks out the punk but also a few experimental elements.
After a spoken word sample about our perception of political reality and religion, Research and Destroy (nice title) throws in some crust to keep things fresh and maintain momentum. Howling leads and squealing guitar lines mean this song is anything but generic.
Road Dogs from Hell is all that is great about metal. From the Mötorhead bass intro to the songs-about-metal lyrics and riff after riff from the Big Book of Awesome Riffs, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Throw in a classic Kerry King style solo and you literally have all the best (most fun) bits of metal in one song.
Cue immediate change of pace for epic closer I See Demons.
We hear the first soft sounds of the whole album, almost tender in tone and execution despite the militaristic drums. It’s over a minute before Book of Black Earth crank the volume and let notes ring out over rumbling chords.
Everything gets gradually more distorted, choppy and tense until we are allowed to breathe as the songs drops out after over 3 minutes, only to kick off again with the vocals for the first time as a punky thrasher.
The vocals get more stricken as the song shifts into blackened territory for the despairing and introspective chorus: “I see demons inside my mind”.
A mournful solo manipulates the atmosphere again before we divebomb back into blasts and tremolo picking.
The fadeout which consists of those vaguely indie (shock, horror!) militaristic drums and soft sounds, is a million miles away from the crushing tones of the album’s opener.
At this point, I usually hit play again. I suggest you do the same.