Book of Black Earth
Interview with Joe Axler (drums) and TJ Cowgill (Guitar/Vocals)
by Monika Deviat
Book of Black Earth from Seattle have just recently released their third full length album, “The Cold Testament”. The follow up to “Horoskopus” (2008) is quite different from the bands previous work but fans and critics are giving the new album great reviews. The death metallers have been through a few line up changes since the band’s inception in 2003 and “The Cold Testament” is the band’s first endeavor without a keyboardist. The sound on the new album is darker and harsher and we’re sure many fans can’t wait for a tour announcement from the quartet. Book of Black Earth took some time to talk to Metal-Rules.com about the new album and their future plans.
How would you describe the new album as a whole entity?
Joe Axler: Way more brutal. This album was written how we wanted to play as we wrote it, it didn’t have any set ideas of how we wanted it to sound musically, this gave us way more room to be creative and in my eyes make a record that flows better than any we have done before.
TJ: I would disagree to an extent with Joe. I definitely had a lot of structure and did a lot of my own pre-production at home compiling the riffs. I do agree that it’s way heavier in a way, basically I think the songs are just leaner, better written and way more fun to play and listen to.
What is it about “The Cold Testament” that made it thematically looser, as TJ Cowgill is quoted saying, than “Horoskopus”?
TJ: Well it’s more of a theme based on the title Cold Testament. If you look at the lyrics one way, it’s about how all civilization came from Antarctica, but if you look at it another way, it’s about being haunted by the past and living as a slave to personal demons. Horoskopus was clearly about sun worship within the Christian, Judaic, and Muslim faiths. No other way to look at it. This was more of a science fiction dual layered concept record that is not as serious as an album lyrically.
How did you come up with the concept for the album artwork?
Joe: We asked our friend Derek Noble who has tattooed most of us and who does amazing artwork to do the art for this one, we basically gave him creative control and just a rough idea of what we wanted. What he came up with was perfect! The back cover was initially supposed to be the front cover till we saw the wolf painting and that one just fit
TJ: Well he came up with the what ended up as the back of the record for the front but it didn’t pop enough for me so we sent him back to the drawing board. I love wolves, unashamedly, so I asked him to do a snarling wolf. Plus it fits with the RDFH song and other imagery we’ve used in the past. All in all Derek is an amazing artist, who was a total pleasure to work with.
How long did it take to write all the songs? Did the writing flow naturally? Did you encounter any difficulties?
Joe: The writing flowed really well, writing with book of black earth seems to go really well, after initial riffs are brought to the table everyone starts writing their own parts and giving input, then everyone seems to write off each other.
TJ: Except some songs. Like Cross Contamination, that fucker was done and ready for when I brought it to you dudes. And RDFH. There is a lot of collaborating along the way, but sometimes I gotta say, this song should be this way and this way only.
Can you describe the writing process for this album?
TJ: I started writing these riffs before we were done with Horoskopus! I record the guitars at home, usually two tracks, to start figuring out the harmonies and structures. Antarctica was a really fun one for guitar, that riff sounds way more complicated than it is. Then If I just have loose ideas I bring them to practice and we start piecing them together. Very rarely will we write an entire song at practice but actually, that’s how Termination came about. We were wrapping up a practice and I played the main verse riff just jamming for a bit while people were putting their instruments away. I think we all stuck around for an extra hour and hammered out the blue print for it. Joe really wanted the end to be slow, and it’s good ideas like that that make writing really fun.
Are there any songwriters whose styles or methods have influenced you?
Joe: I was listening to a lot of Sepultura, Nasum, and Misery Index when we recorded this record. I think it shows, ha.
TJ: I listened to His Hero is Gone "Monument’s to Thieves", Mastodon "Remission", and Dismember "Death Metal" as references of really great albums beginning to end. I would listen to each record with headphones on in the dark to figure out what makes them really good. In a way I’ve cracked the code of three of my favorite records and applied them to the Cold Testament. I would tell you the secret, but then it wouldn’t be a secret anymore would it?
How do you stay motivated during recording?
Joe: I stayed very heavily self medicated during recording this record. Cant say I remember most of the time in the studio.
TJ: I really like to record, it’s probably my favorite thing next to writing about music. It’s really rewarding and fun so that in itself is great motivation.
Do you have any recording rituals?
Joe: watch a lot of youtube videos of fat people falling down.
TJ: I like to bring some candles, some skulls, shit like that. Really get myself in a "death metal mood" so to speak.
Dan Swano, who has worked with Bloodbath, mixed and mastered the new album. Was he chosen because of his work with Bloodbath, a band listed as an influence of B.O.B.E?
Joe: We made a list of people we wanted to work with, Dan Swano was on the top of the list. TJ emailed him and he said he was interested in working with us. We were all pretty fucking excited! Yes, Bloodbath ruled, but he has also produced records of some of my personal favorite bands.
TJ: Joe really wanted to track with Chris Common again and so I was like, well I wanna mix with Dan Swano! Joe was way into the idea. I went to Unisound’s website and was shocked at how affordable Dan’s rates are. And when he emailed me back he seemed like he genuinely liked our band and was into doing it. I was ecstatic!
Reviews of “The Cold Testament” have been great. Have you had the opportunity to play many of the new songs yet? How have fans’ reactions been? Are there specific songs that crowds really like?
Joe: The last string of shows we have played since recording The Cold Testament has been the record in its entirety, first to last song. The songs are a lot more catchy, headbanger, fist pumping songs, the crowds have seemed to be way more into it response wise.
TJ: And these songs are fun as fuck to play live.
Do any of the band members have any formal musical training?
Joe: I have formal training practicing along to a tutor called the Michael Jackson, Beat It cassette tape when I was young. True story.
TJ: Ha ha no, I’ve been playing guitar the wrong way for 15 years. I think both Rob and Ricky are classically trained jazz musicians but we make sure you can’t tell.
Are there any bands you’d love to play with or tour with?
Joe: I know its not possible, but I would be fucking ecstatic if I had the chance to share the stage, let alone tour with Nasum. Besides that there are a ton of bands I would love to play/tour with, I love a lot of music and still turn into a superfan when I see a band I like regardless of their size or success.
TJ: I would love to tour with Repulsion, or if Darkthrone would ever play live them. That would be fun, Darkthrone, Repulsion, and Book of Black Earth world tour 2025. Ha ha.
Do you expect fans to get a certain message from your lyrics?
TJ: With death metal a lot of the fans are either totally geniuses or total morons. Either way, I am not out to educate anyone. It’s just fun to sing about gnarly shit.
We recently read that there were no tour plans yet since Ricky and his wife were expecting a baby. How do you balance family life with band life?
Joe: Ricky and Annas baby was due 2 days ago, we are all really excited for them! We will have to figure out the balance when the smoke settles and time comes.
With “The Cold Testament” just released, have you moved on to thinking about or writing another album yet? Do you usually have extra material written that will be put to use on a new album?
TJ: As usual I already have the first 15 minutes or so tracked on my computer. It’s not extra material, every album is approached as it’s own project.
What is your favorite sandwich?
TJ: I think this shrimp sandwich from Paseo’s has to be my favorite sandwich of all time. If your ever in Seattle, go to Paseo’s and get two shrimp sandwiches. You won’t regret it.