Fans of Book of Black Earth’s previous releases may shun this Seattle foursome’s transition from murky to crisp production on their latest full-length release. After all, its menacing mixture of low-fi grind and feedback-soaked grandeur was a big part of what made 2008’s Horoskopus so striking and presumably helped the band land tour slots with high-profile blasphemers like Watain. And to be fair, this shift in production value makes The Cold Testament feel vastly different from the band’s past work. Yet the Behemoth-esque songwriting revealed by this new sound proves monstrously satisfying. On tracks like “Road Dogs From Hell” and “Antarctica,” Book of Black Earth exude a vitality that the plodding stompers on Horoskopus sorely lacked, without losing the bleak black-metal atmosphere that haunts their guitar work and percussion. Where before the band oozed despair, they now emanate panic and fury, each shriek and shred bright and irritated as a fresh wound. The Cold Testament marks a new plateau for one of the best death-metal acts around. CHRIS KROVATIN
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